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Africa: Curbing the Arms Trade?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 19, 2013 (130319)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The United Nations began new meetings this week to finalize negotiations on an international treaty governing trade in conventional arms. But enacting a strong treaty without major loopholes faces many obstacles, not least the fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are among the largest exporters of conventional arms. And, in the United States, the powerful National Rifle Association is campaigning against the treaty.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) excerpts from a press release and briefing by Amnesty International, calling for a robust treaty and citing the obstacle posed by the big five, and (2) excerpts from a press release and fact sheet from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Despite the efforts of many organizations, tracking the arms trade is still a complicated and often confusing process. Small arms and light weapons, not included in the SIPRI database of "major conventional weapons," are particularly difficult to track.

With the exception of South Africa, African countries are almost entirely importers rather than exporters of arms. And, while the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and China dominate the arms trade worldwide, in Africa many smaller exporting countries sometimes play even larger roles.

The SIPRI Arms Transfer database ( can be used for reports on transfers of major conventional weapons by country, now through 2012, although it does not yet provide aggregate totals by region. For the period 2008-2012, the United States (#1) and Russia (#2)were indeed the primary suppliers to Egypt. Russia overwhelmingly dominated in supplies to Algeria, while the U.S., France, and the Netherlands were the top suppliers to Morocco. Although Uganda is a U.S. ally, however, its top arms suppliers were Russia and the Ukraine. The major suppliers to South Africa were Sweden and Germany.

No treaty, of course, however strong the wording, can in itself curb the flow of weapons. But how strong the treaty is will be a good indicator of how willing major powers are to making a start in serious regulation of the trade.

Selected Additional Sources

Friends Committee on National Legislation - letter by U.S. groups to President Obama / direct URL:

Official United Nations sites for Arms Trade Treaty

Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, SIPRI Policy Paper no. 30
December 2011

Federation of American Scientists
Arms Sales Monitoring Project

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

World Powers Urged to Support a Robust Arms Treaty

Amnesty International
Press Release

AI Index: ACT30/001/2013
12 March 2013

[Full Amnesty report available at]

Arms supplied by the world's major powers are among those contributing to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and blighting the livelihoods of millions of people every year, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published just days before final negotiations on a global Arms Trade Treaty open at the United Nations.

Between them, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA - are responsible for over half of the almost US$100 billion total annual global trade in conventional weapons.

The same five states will be pivotal to finalizing an effective Arms Trade Treaty with strong human rights protections at the conference taking place at the UN from 18-28 March.

All this week in the run-up to that historic meeting, Amnesty International activists and supporters are holding a "Global Week of Action" to call on world leaders to adopt an effective Arms Trade Treaty with strong human rights protections.

"It's clear that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for the lion's share of arms deals across borders - and so collectively they must shoulder the greatest burden in bringing the poorly regulated global arms trade in check," said Helen Hughes, researcher on arms transfers at Amnesty International.

"Our research brings to light how China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA have all engaged in arms deals that fuelled atrocities, and we now urge them to help adopt an effective Arms Trade Treaty that makes such irresponsible transactions a thing of the past."

The 12-page briefing, Major powers fuelling atrocities, includes examples of arms transfers from each of the five countries to states around the world, where they are likely to be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.


Amnesty International is pressing for the final treaty to cover all types of weapons and munitions for use in military and internal security operations, as well as related equipment, parts and technology.

"No opt-outs should be allowed, and to be effective, the treaty must have a 'Golden Rule' requiring states to halt arms exports when there is a substantial risk the arms will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's Head of Arms Control and Human Rights.

"Also, the treaty should completely ban the transfer of arms that would aid or assist in crimes under international law, including extra-judicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances."


"While it won't be a panacea for all of the world's misuse of arms, if we get a strong Arms Trade Treaty it will be an important step towards achieving much more security and human rights protection for billions of people who today live in fear," said Wood.

Major Powers Fuelling Atrocities: Why the World Needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty

March 2013

Amnesty International

Every year, thousands of people are killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result of abuses and atrocities committed with conventional arms and ammunition. Harrowing testimonies and images from conflict zones and human rights crises around the world underline the urgent need to end irresponsible arms transfers and illicit trafficking.

The UN process arising from worldwide civil society and political pressure to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), in order to establish international standards for the control of the global arms trade, was supposed to conclude in July 2012 at the month-long UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. Progress was made but the Conference ended without agreement because of the blocking tactics of a small minority of states. The draft text of the Treaty includes several provisions that address human rights but these provisions and other key measures still need to be strengthened.

Since then, Amnesty International and hundreds of other NGOs have continued their long campaigns to achieve an effective ATT, and in March 2013 UN member states will reconvene in New York for nine days of negotiations to finalize this Treaty. Several states, including the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council - China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK and the USA - are responsible for most of the world's conventional arms sales and aid and they will be pivotal in deciding whether an effective ATT predicated on respect for human rights is concluded.

This briefing illustrates the role of each of the Permanent Five in the global arms markets, and highlights key measures in the Treaty that need to be improved. Amnesty International is calling on political leaders and state officials to use their influence to secure an effective ATT by the end of March 2013.

China's small arms trade

Most of China's conventional arms are made by state-owned companies. The main manufacturers of small arms and light weapons (SALW) are the China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco Group) and the China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC). Between them, these two companies manufacture all types of SALW, including assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and mortars and their associated ammunition.

Under Chinese legislation, weapons, munitions and related equipment should only be exported from China by stateowned export companies such as Norinco Corporation, which is the main importer/ exporter for the Norinco Group and CSGC, and Poly Technologies Inc, which supplied arms carried on a ship headed for Zimbabwe in 2008, generating an international outcry.

Chinese SALW have been found in countries subject to UN Security Council arms embargoes, or where they are likely to be used to commit or facilitate crimes under international law or human rights abuses, amnesty international march 2013 Index: aCt 30/001/2013 such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Darfur and other regions of Sudan. It is not always known whether China has supplied these directly, but Chinese weapons, such as QLZ87 Automatic Grenade Launchers, have been seen repeatedly in Darfur and more recently in Southern Kordofan. In 2011, the UN Panel of Experts, which monitors enforcement of the UN arms embargo on Darfur, reported that significant volumes of small arms ammunition used in Darfur by the Sudanese Armed Forces, other security agencies and government-backed militia groups appear to be Chinese-manufactured, carrying marking-codes used by Chinese military corporations.

[for details see full report at]

France: Transferring Technology to Sudan

In Darfur the 10-year conflict continues with no sign of resolution, and human rights violations have remained widespread. Despite this, international attention has shifted to other events in Sudan, including fighting which erupted in Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in mid-2011. During 2011, government forces and government-allied militia carried out attacks in Darfur, including aerial bombardments, and there were ground attacks by armed opposition groups in and around towns and villages, including camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Rape and other forms of sexual violence by government forces and allied militia against displaced women and girls continued.

All the armed actors require all-terrain vehicles to transport combatants through the vast Darfur deserts. Some of these trucks are European models, assembled by the local Sudanese GIAD Automotive Industry Company, including the Renault Midlum trucks.

According to research by the International Peace Information Service vzw (IPIS), a UK Unreported World documentary on Darfur broadcast in 2008 included images of a GIAD manufactured Renault Midlum truck in camouflage colours. These were being used by the government-backed Janjaweed militia who have committed gross human rights violations. Between 2007 and 2009, Amnesty International documented repeated attacks on civilians by the Janjaweed in Darfur.

[for details see full report at]

Russian Arms Supplies to Syria

[see full report]

UK: Brokering and Brass Plate Companies

On 1 October 2008, the UK government extended a degree of extra-territorial control over arms brokers to include the international transfer of small arms and light weapons, including important new controls on their transportation. However, there is now increasing evidence that UK "brass plate" companies are being used by foreign arms brokers to facilitate the unlicensed supply of weapons, munitions and related equipment to countries where they are likely to be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations. Numerous brass plate companies have been registered in the UK with a UK trading address, but owned by non-UK nationals.


UK Front Company "Arranges" Transport of Tanks to South Sudan

UK brass plate companies were involved in an international clandestine supply chain of several large consignments of Ukrainianmade T-72 tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launch systems, rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles to the government of South Sudan, via Kenya. Amnesty International's findings show that the UKregistered Marine Energy Trading Company Ltd (METCO) time-chartered the ship MV Radomyshl to carry the first consignment of weapons. The MV Radomyshl, operated by the Danube Shipping company of the Ukraine, departed from the Ukrainian port of Oktyabrsk on 14 September 2007 and arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, on 29 October 2007. Ace Shipping Ltd of the Isle of Man time-chartered the second arms shipment, which arrived on the Beluga Endurance, departing from Oktyabrsk on 12 December 2007 and arriving in Mombasa on 12 January 2008. The Ukrainian company, Phoenix Transport Services, which arranged the arms shipments, told Amnesty International, "the only reason [for] using Ace Shipping Co during the vessel's chartering is the simplification of accounting, as the Ukrainian tax legislation is one of the most complicated in the world".

[for details see full report at]

USA Supplies Ammunition to Yemen

[see full report]


These examples of international arms transfers by the Permanent Five states, as well as many more by other arms trading countries show why a strong Arms Trade Treaty is needed. The absence of global standards to control the arms trade between countries needs to be addressed urgently and is costing hundreds of thousands of lives and blighting the livelihoods of millions of people every year.

To be effective the ATT must have a "Golden Rule" to require all States Parties to refuse, suspend or revoke authorization of an international transfer of arms that poses a substantial risk of being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. It should also be expressly prohibited under any circumstances for a State Party to aid or assist another state with conventional arms knowing the arms would more likely than not be used by the receiving state to commit war crimes or serious violations of human rights that are crimes under international law, such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.

The scope of the ATT should also include all types of weapons and munitions for use in military and internal security operations, as well as related equipment, parts and technology. Transfers should include international trade and also gifts. Brokering, transport and financial services for international arms transfers must be regulated. Annual reports should cover data on all transfers and activities and be open to public scrutiny. No opt outs should be allowed. These strong rules would help save many lives and protect livelihoods from irresponsible arms transfers.

The ATT is not a panacea, but its achievement is an essential part of the solution to achieve a much more secure world for billions of people.

China Replaces UK as World's Fifth Largest Arms Exporter, Says SIPRI

Press release, March 18, 2013

Contact: Stephanie Blenckner, Communications Director Tel: +46 8 655 97 47, Mobile: +46 70 86 55 360, Email:

[Excerpts only. For full text, visit

(Stockholm, 18 March 2013) China has become the fifth largest exporter of major conventional arms worldwide, according to new data on international arms transfers published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This is the first time China has been in the top five arms exporters since the end of the cold war. Overall, the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons grew by 17 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12.

The five largest suppliers of major conventional weapons during the five-year period 2008-12 were the United States (30 per cent of global arms exports), Russia (26 per cent), Germany (7 per cent), France (6 per cent) and China (5 per cent). This is the first time that the UK has not been in the top five since at least 1950, the earliest year covered by SIPRI data. China's displacement of the UK is the first change in the composition of the top five exporters in 20 years.

The volume of Chinese exports of major conventional weapons rose by 162 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, and its share of the volume of international arms exports increased from 2 to 5 per cent.


*Imports by North African states increased by 350 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, which was almost entirely responsible for a doubling (by 104 per cent) in imports by Africa as a whole.

  • Sub-Saharan imports increased by just 5 per cent. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa imported only small numbers of major weapons, but many of these have been used in internal conflicts or in interventions in conflicts in neighbouring states, most recently in Mali.

For editors

The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database contains information on all international transfers of major conventional weapons (including sales, gifts and production licences) to states, international organizations and armed non-state groups from 1950 to the most recent full calendar year. SIPRI data reflects the volume of deliveries of arms, not the financial value of the deals. As the volume of deliveries can fluctuate significantly year on year, SIPRI presents data for 5-year periods, giving a more stable measure of trends.

Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2012

SIPRI Fact Sheet

March 2013

{Excerpts only. For full text, see]

The volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons was 17 per cent higher in the period 2008-12 than in 2003-2007. The five biggest exporters in the period 2008-12 were the United States, Russia, Germany, France and China. This is the first time since the end of the cold war that a state from outside Europe and North America has appeared among the five largest arms exporters.

The five biggest importers in 2008-12 were India, China, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore. The flow of arms to Asia and Africa increased notably between 2008-12 and 2003-2007, while flows to Europe and the Middle East decreased.

From 18 March 2013 the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database includes newly released information on arms transfers during 2012 (see box 1). This Fact Sheet describes the trends in international arms transfers that are revealed by the new data. ...

The Top 5 Exporters, 2008-12

The USA and Russia remained by far the largest exporters of arms. The volume of arms exported by the top 5 suppliers in 2008-12 was 14 per cent higher than the volume exported by the top 5 sup- pliers in 2003-2007; however, their collective share of total exports dropped from 78 per cent to 75 per cent. For the first five-year period since 1950, the UK was not among the top 5 suppliers in 2008-12: China displaced it to become the fifth largest exporter.

The Importers, 2008-12


The regional breakdown of arms deliveries has remained relatively stable over the past 10 years. Asia and Oceania accounted for almost half of imports of major conventional weapons in 2008-12, followed by the Middle East and Europe. There was a notable increase in the shares of Asia and Oceania and Africa, and a clear decrease for Europe and the Middle East.


Imports by African states increased 104 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12. During 2003-2007 countries in subSaharan Africa accounted for 71 per cent of the imports to Africa; during 2008-12 these countries imported 5 per cent more arms. In contrast, imports by North African countries increased by 350 per cent in 2008-12 and accounted for 64 per cent of imports by African states. Algeria, Morocco and South Africa were by far the largest arms importers in Africa in 2008-12.

Algeria and Morocco

The volume of deliveries to Algeria increased by 277 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12 and it rose from 22nd to 6th largest recipient.

Russia supplied 93 per cent of Algerian arms imports, including 44 Su-30MKA combat aircraft, 2 Project-636 submarines, an estimated 3 S-300PMU-2 (SA-20B) long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems and 185 T-90S tanks. However, in 2011-12 Algeria turned to Germany for 2 MEKOA 200 frigates and for a first batch of 54 of a planned 1200 Fuchs armoured personnel carriers and to China for 3 F-22A frigates.

The volume of deliveries to Morocco increased by 1460 per cent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12. Morocco rose from being 69th largest recipient to 12th largest, with a considerable volume of deliveries taking place during 2011-12. Morocco's imports during 2008-12 included 24 F-16C combat aircraft from the USA, 27 MF-2000 combat aircraft from France, 3 SIGMA frigates from the Netherlands and 54 Type-90-2 tanks from China.

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa accounted for 24 per cent of imports by subSaharan African states in 2008-12. However, having completed a substantial modernization of its forces, its imports were 40 per cent lower than in 2003-2007.

Uganda and Sudan were the second and third lar gest importers in the region, accounting for 15 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. The volume of Ugandan imports during 2008-12 was almost 1200 per cent higher than in 2003-2007, mainly due to the delivery of 6 Su-30 combat aircraft from Russia in 2011-12. The volume of Sudanese imports for 2008-12 was 29 per cent lower than during 2003-2007 despite deliveries of 20 Mi-24 combat helicopters from Russia, 15 Su-25 combat aircraft from Belarus, and 160 T-72 and T-55 tanks from Ukraine during 2008-12.

West Africa

West African states have traditionally imported few major weapons. The volume of imports to the region almost doubled between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, but this still only accounted for 1 per cent of the global total. Nigeria was the largest importer in West Africa, accounting for 42 per cent of the region's imports in 2008-12. Ships made up 36 per cent of West Africa's imports, as maritime patrol assets were acquired to combat increasing piracy and other illegal activities. Small numbers of armoured vehicles, helicopters and aircraft were also delivered to the region. Weapons delivered in this period, such as F-7MG combat aircraft delivered to Nigeria from China and armoured vehicles delivered to Mali from Bulgaria, were used in the conflict with rebels in northern Mali in 2012 and early 2013.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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