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Switzerland: Rights group warns arms trade regulation being ignored


GENEVA,  Switzerland, September 11 (Infosplusgabon)-   More than four years after the United Nations (UN) voted to adopt a landmark treaty to regulate the international arms trade, major arms exporters, are ignoring the treaty, human rights group Amnesty International warned on Monday.


It said the arms exporters, including the UK and France, are effectively ignoring their treaty obligations by continuing to supply arms even where there is a real risk they could contribute to serious human rights violations.


In a statement ahead of a diplomats' meeting in Geneva on Monday for the start of the third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Amnesty said about half a million people are killed every year by firearms, and millions more are trapped in brutal conflicts fuelled by reckless arms sales.


“The Arms Trade Treaty promised to save countless lives by reigning in this massive, secretive industry, but at the moment weak implementation and a lack of transparency are threatening to undermine it,” said James Lynch, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.


“We are urging States Parties to double down on their commitments under the treaty, and to hold each other to account for reckless and potentially unlawful arms transfers. There is no time to waste - people around the world are being killed, maimed and terrorized by weapons which should never have been transferred in the first place,” he added.


The ATT sets out prohibitions to stop the international transfer of arms when it is known they would be used for war crimes, or where there is an overriding risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.


Amnesty said under the ATT, exports of conventional weapons cannot take place if there is an overriding risk they could contribute to serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. It added that it has highlighted several examples where States Parties appear to have broken their obligations under the treaty.


"For example, many States Parties including France, the UK and Italy have supplied Egypt with a range of conventional weapons that could be used for internal repression including light arms and ammunition, despite the Egyptian government’s violent crackdown on dissent which has resulted in thousands of protesters being killed, tortured and injured," the statement said.


According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from 2012-16, the period in which Egypt experienced an unprecedented crackdown, 80% of Egypt’s imports of major conventional weapons came from the US (a signatory to the ATT) or France.


Amnesty said several governments have also continued to lavish weapons on Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming and credible evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, during which time the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has bombed schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, the UK has approved exports of licences worth over £3.7 billion to Saudi Arabia.


According to SIPRI, Saudi Arabia is the US and UK’s largest trading partner for heavy conventional weapons. Exports to Saudi Arabia made up 13% of the US’s total military exports and 48% of the UK’s arms exports in 2012-16. Just under 80% of all Saudi Arabia’s imports of major conventional weapons in 2012-16 came from the US and the UK.


In May 2017, the US agreed US$110 billion worth of potential arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In the same period the UK delivered 20 Fighter Ground Attack Typhoon Block 20 aircraft worth US$1.15 billion; 2,400 guided Paveway bombs worth US$48 million; 50 Storm Shadow/ SCALP cruise missiles worth US$70 million; and two Air Refuelling systems worth US$20 million.


According to SIPRI data, other significant suppliers of heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia since the start of the conflict in Yemen include France (US$218 million); Spain (US$196 million) and Switzerland (US$186 million); Italy (US$154 million); Canada (US$115 million); and Turkey (US$91 million).


“One of the key aims of the ATT is to make the arms trade more transparent; yet states are still leaving out crucial information about who they are selling weapons to and how many, and what type of, arms they are importing,” said Lynch.


He added: “This is not just an administrative concern. The fact that some states are choosing to leave huge gaps, or simply not submit their reports at all, raises disturbing questions about what they are trying to hide.


“With transfers of major conventional weapons at their highest volume since the end of the Cold War, and weapons continuing to flow into conflict zones and countries rife with internal repression, States Parties need to  remember the purpose of this treaty: to reduce human suffering.  They must use this week’s meeting as an opportunity to ensure that all exporters and importers are held accountable to that aim.”


Amnesty said the world spent US$1.69 trillion on the military in 2016, just over 2% of global GDP. The top 100 arms companies have sold over US$5 trillion  worth of arms since 2002.




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