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Africa: Arms Embargoes
Mar 23, 2006 (060323)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
UN arms embargoes are systematically violated and must be urgently
strengthened if they are to stop weapons fueling human rights
abuses, according to a report presented to the UN Security Council
last week. According to the Control Arms Campaign every one of the
13 UN arms embargoes imposed in the last decade has been repeatedly
violated. And despite hundreds of embargo breakers being named in
UN reports, only a handful have been successfully prosecuted.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release and excerpts
from the new report released by the Control Arms Campaign, a joint
campaign of Amnesty International, the International Action Network
on Small Arms, and Oxfam International.
More information, including detailed reports on arms embargoes for
Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specific
recommendations, and campaign literature, is available at
Earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on security issues are available at
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Arms traffickers enjoy impunity as all UN arms embargoes in last
decade 'systematically violated'
Report from the Control Arms Campaign: Oxfam International, Amnesty
International and International Action Network on Small Arms
16 March, 2006
The Control Arms Campaign is a joint initiative by Amnesty
International, Oxfam International and the International Action
Network on Small Arms (IANSA). It aims to reduce arms proliferation
and misuse and to convince governments to introduce a binding arms
For more information, please contact:
Oxfam: Clare Rudebeck on +44 1865 47 2530 or +44 7769 887 139
Amnesty: James Dyson on +44 20 7413 5831 or +44 7795 628 367
IANSA: Anthea Lawson: +44 20 7065 0875 +44 7900 242 869
UN arms embargoes are systematically violated and must be urgently
strengthened if they are to stop weapons fuelling human rights
abuses, according to a report being presented to the UN Security
Council today (Thursday). According to the Control Arms Campaign
every one of the 13 UN arms embargoes imposed in the last decade
has been repeatedly violated. And despite hundreds of embargo
breakers being named in UN reports, only a handful have been
"Over the past ten years systematic violations of United Nations
arms embargoes have met with almost no successful prosecutions.
Unscrupulous arms dealers continue to get away with grave human
rights abuses and make a mockery of the UN Security Council's
efforts, " said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary
Control Arms campaigners will today appeal to the UN Security
Council for states to strengthen the enforcement of UN embargoes.
They will argue for a raft of new measures, including the urgent
agreement of an International Arms Trade Treaty. This Treaty would
enable governments to act in unison to strictly control
conventional arms transfers, thereby creating the conditions for UN
arms embargoes to be properly respected. Since the Campaign began
in October 2003, over 45 countries have stated their support for
such a treaty.
According to the report:
- UN investigative teams tasked with monitoring the embargoes are
given woefully inadequate resources and time.
- Despite UN mandatory arms embargoes being legally binding under
international law, many states have not even made violating an
embargo a criminal offence.
- Arms export, import and freight documents are routinely faked
and state officials often cover up arms transfers.
- UN peacekeepers are sometimes not trained to adequately record
markings on weapons, while UN missions do not have adequate means
to monitor ports of entry in embargoed zones.
"Illegal arms dealers are getting away with murder on a daily
basis. Embargoes must be strengthened but even then they will
remain a blunt instrument. They are often imposed by the UN
Security Council on the basis of politics rather than principles
and are usually deployed too late to save lives. The world urgently
needs an Arms Trade Treaty if we're to stop weapons getting into
the wrong hands," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's Director.
According to campaigners, between 1990 and 2001 only 8 of 57
conflicts had UN arms embargoes imposed. Even when UN embargoes
were agreed, it was generally only once a conflict had begun. An
Arms Trade Treaty would provide a broader framework to prevent
weapons being sold before wars start or human rights abuses reach
their peak. This would also enable tougher enforcement of UN
embargoes according to common standards based on international law.
Today, Control Arms campaigners from around the world will also be
marking 100 days to go until the UN world conference on small arms
in June. During the next 100 days, campaigners in 110 countries
will be holding marches, concerts and stunts to put pressure on
their leaders to support an Arms Trade Treaty.
"In the 100 days until the UN world conference on small arms
starts, an estimated 100,000 people will be killed with arms and
many more will be injured and suffer severely in other ways from
armed violence. Today, people from Kenya to Canada to Chile will be
calling on their leaders to demand global controls to stop weapons
falling into the wrong hands," said Rebecca Peters, Director of the
International Action Network on Small Arms.
Over 800,000 people in 160 countries have already given their
photographs to the Million Faces Petition, which is the world's
largest photo petition, calling on leaders to back stricter
controls on the arms trade. It will be delivered at the June
conference, representing the million people who have been killed by
arms since the last UN conference on small arms in 2001.
UN arms embargoes: an overview of the last ten years
16 March 2006
Despite the fact that every one of the 13 United Nations arms
embargoes imposed in the last decade has been systematically
violated, only a handful of the many arms embargo breakers named in
UN sanctions reports has been successfully prosecuted. According to
the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 1990
and 2001 there were 57 separate major armed conflicts raging around
the globe, yet only eight of them were subject to UN arms
Such embargoes are usually late and blunt instruments, and the UN
Sanctions Committees, which oversee the embargoes, have to rely
largely on Member States to monitor and implement them. Therefore,
arms embargoes cannot be deployed effectively as an instrument by
the UN to prevent illicit arms trafficking, without better national
controls on international arms transfers. These controls are
In addition, the Sanctions Committees of the Security Council have
to rely on UN investigative teams and UN peacekeeping missions to
investigate violations of embargoes and report compliance. However,
these bodies usually have inadequate resources and time to do that
There are currently UN mandatory territorial arms embargoes in
force against the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Somalia. Non-state
actors (rebel groups and their leaders) are also subject to arms
embargoes. Currently, every state in the international community is
prohibited from transferring arms to such non- state actor groups
in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra
Leone and in Sudan, as well as to Al-Qaida and associated persons.
In the last decade, there have also been embargoes imposed on
Angolan armed rebels (1992 to 2002), Ethiopia and Eritrea (2000 to
2001), Iraq (1990 to 2003), Libya (1992 to 2003), and the former
Yugoslavia (1991 to 1996 and again from 1998 to 2001). None of
these mandatory UN arms embargoes has stopped the supply of arms;
sometimes the embargoes have made it logistically more difficult
and expensive to acquire the desired arms, but available evidence
suggests that on the whole violations of UN arms embargoes appear
persistent, widespread and systematic.
Who is involved?
Private individuals who are arms dealers, brokers, financiers and
traffickers, as well as companies around the world, have been
involved in embargo busting, usually working in networks. A sample
of UN Panel of Expert reports on embargoed destinations in Africa1
shows that companies and individuals based in the following wide
range of countries have facilitated the supply of arms to embargoed
destinations over the last decade. The list includes countries of
manufacture, export, import, transit, diversion and company
registration involved in the illegal deals. This is by no means an
exhaustive list but shows the global nature of trafficking
Albania, Belgium, the British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria,Burkina
Faso, Burundi, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Egypt,
Gibraltar, Guinea, Israel, Liberia, Libya, Moldova,
Nigeria, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, the
Ivory Coast, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates,
United Kingdom, Zimbabwe.
Additionally, weapons and munitions recovered by UN personnel in
embargoed destinations have been traced back to their country of
manufacture. Whilst again this is not an exhaustive list, these
Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Germany, Egypt, Romania, Russia,
The origins of these weapons have been identified from serial
numbers and other relevant markings but sometimes UN personnel fail
to record the relevant markings to enable the supply chain to be
traced. Some of these arms may have been supplied before an embargo
was imposed, or may have been diverted from third- country
stockpiles, so even an analysis of serial numbers doesn't always
imply a breach of sanctions by the original manufacturing country.
Investigators also have to look for documentary and other evidence
in many countries but do not have the time and resources to do so.
UN and other data also indicates that older, second hand, surplus
weapons and ammunition are often transferred to embargoed
destinations in large quantities, but not identified by UN field
How many weapons get through the system?
Given the clandestine nature of arms deliveries to embargoed
destinations, it is impossible to quantify precise volumes of
weapons deliveries to these countries. However, it is clear from
the few cases that UN experts have reported, that the scale of arms
deliveries is extremely significant. Analysis of documents,
including copies of end-user certificates (EUCs) , and freight
documents from several case studies identified in various UN
investigative reports, shows that a typical delivery can contain
several million rounds of ammunition, tens of thousands of assault
rifles, machine guns and pistols, and thousands of grenades and
rocket- propelled grenades.
For example, Serbian company, Temex, delivered nearly 210 tonnes of
weapons to Liberia in mid-2002. The UN details a series of six
flights between 1 June and 31 August 2002, with weapons equating to
five million rounds of ammunition
5160 assault rifles, pistols and machine guns
4500 hand grenades
350 missile launchers
These shipments alone include enough bullets to kill the entire
population of Liberia. A consignment of five million rounds of
ammunition is approximately enough to keep an armed group of 10,000
fighters supplied for a whole year.
Basic flaws in the UN embargo system
UN arms embargoes are imposed as a method of last resort, usually
once the humanitarian and human rights situation in a particular
country has already reached crisis point. Decisions to impose, or
more importantly not to impose arms embargoes, are also largely
guided by political considerations. Often the commercial, political
or other strategic interests of any one member of the UN Security
Council means a decision to impose an arms embargo on a particular
regime or armed group is not tabled or agreed.
UN arms embargoes are also routinely and systematically violated
because Member States, especially powerful states, do not support
the UN with proper enforcement. For example, despite UN mandatory
arms embargoes being legally binding under the UN Charter, many
states have not even made violating an embargo a criminal offence
in domestic law. UN investigative teams tasked with monitoring the
embargoes are given woefully inadequate resources and time to do
their difficult job given the inherently clandestine nature of such
traffic and its grave consequences.
How do sanctions busters get away with it?
Unfortunately, very rarely do embargo busters get caught red handed
with illegal weapons in a country subject to a UN arms embargo.
Dealers and traffickers are adept at plying the weaknesses
in national control systems to find a way of getting their weapons
into these destinations.Typically, the individuals behind these
deals will set up a labyrinth of front companies, make frequent use
of fraudulent or misleading official paperwork, utilise a myriad of
shipping companies' freight forwards and handling agents, and hide
payments via offshore banking and financial services. They may also
route the actual deliveries via third countries (not subject to
embargo restrictions) and create such a complex supply chain that
any individual element can deny knowledge of deliberate attempts to
violate international arms embargoes. This deliberate obfuscation
creates a web of deceit akin to 'an international get- out- ofjail
Moreover, state officials often cover up arms transfers when
providing information to the UN investigators because of narrow
political interests, corruption or ignorance. UN peacekeepers
collecting weapons and munitions belonging to embargoed entities
are sometimes not trained to adequately record markings, while UN
missions do not have adequate means to monitor ports of entry in
embargoed zones. Charter aircraft and cargo firms that are
repeatedly used to break UN arms embargoes are often not grounded
or closed down when exposed by the UN the owners can easily
switch their registrations and company names, so the same
trafficking networks continue to ply their deadly trade.
The role of brokers: two serial offenders
Despite the numerous companies and countries implicated in arms
embargo violations, evidence suggests that many deliveries to
embargoed destinations are in fact organised by established
trafficking networks often orchestrated by relatively few
individuals. These individuals, whilst named in numerous reports,
still evade prosecution for the supply of arms to embargoed
The activities of Russian businessman Victor Vassilyevich Bout and
his associates sheds light on the process of arms trafficking into
Central Africa and West Africa. Bout's network has been identified
as supplying arms to Angola, the DRC, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Since the early 1990s, Bout has overseen the development of a
complex network of over 50 aircraft, several airline companies and
freight-forward companies operating in many parts of the world,
and he has been under investigation by police agencies and the UN
for suspected involvement in sanctions-busting activities in SubSaharan
Africa. However, he has never been prosecuted for arms
trafficking because of the inadequate laws of most states to
regulate arms brokering and arms transporting activities.
Another notorious broker, Ukranian Leonid Minin, has been named in
various UN reports for selling arms to Liberia and Sierra Leone. As
documented by the UN Panel of Experts in March 1999, 68 tonnes of
Ukrainian weapons were sent to Burkina Faso using false end-user
certificates, operated by a British company, Air Foyle, under a
contract organised by a company registered in Gibraltar. Within
days of arrival in Burkina Faso the weapons were shipped on to
Liberia in an aircraft owned by Minin. The aircraft was registered
in the Cayman Islands and was operated by a company registered in
Monaco. The weapons were then moved on from Liberia to Sierra
In August 2000, Minin was arrested in Italy, and in June 2001
charged with arms trafficking and the illegal possession of
diamonds. He was found with contracts, faxes documenting arms
deals, weapons catalogues, and forged end-user certificates. These
documents included details of a further shipment of 113 tonnes of
weapons using an Ivory Coast EUC. It is believed that these
shipments were also destined for Liberia. These documents specified
several million rounds of ammunition, and over 15,000 assault
Minin was later released on the grounds that the prosecution lacked
jurisdiction on Minin's arms trafficking activities because the
arms transfers did not pass through Italy.
Summary of key recommendations
International arms embargoes are systematically violated with
impunity. In the last ten years alone there have been 13 UN arms
embargoes in force, yet none has managed to stop the flow of
weaponry to countries or armed groups subject to these embargoes.
Despite an obligation to enforce UN arms embargoes on armed groups
and forces in Africa, a sample of data from UN reports over the
past decade shows that individuals and companies operating in at
least 30 countries across different world regions have been
implicated in embargo busting.
Only a handful of the many arms embargo breakers named in UN
sanctions reports has been successfully prosecuted. Two of the
world's notorious arms traffickers, Victor Bout and Leonid Minin,
named in several UN reports as being responsible for supplying
hundreds of tonnes of arms to embargoed countries, remain at large.
The authority of the United Nations is greatly undermined by
persistent violations of UN Security Council arms embargoes. The
Security Council should continue to improve the design of arms
embargoes. The UN and Member States should address the issue of
impunity of embargo violators. And Member States should also
establish a more effective framework of controls based on a common
set of criteria for international arms transfers fully consistent
with international law: an international Arms Trade Treaty.
In addition, the UN Sanctions Committees, the UN Secretariat and UN
investigative teams require better support to improve verification
methods, techniques and procedures, especially from Member States
close to the embargoed entity, UN peacekeeping missions operating
in the vicinity and other relevant inter-government organisations.
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