[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Tutu on arms dealing: "perfectly normal trade"
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Thu May 22 06:04:37 BST 2008
Make the temporary victory more permanent
21 May 2008 06:00
In the current scandal of the attempt to ship tons of arms and
ammunition to Zimbabwe it is the Chinese who have spoken the most sense.
China's foreign ministry said the country's shipment of mortar grenades,
rockets and bullets was "perfectly normal trade".
It certainly is. Shipping arms to African governments who could use them
to abuse their own people is an abhorrent but almost daily occurrence.
And at present there is nothing the international community can do about
it because there are no effective global controls.
If you want to export weapons to a country that commits gross human
rights abuses, you can. You might have to use a few tricks to get around
the flimsy patchwork of controls that exist, but it is easy and it is
done all the time.
The case of the An Yue Jiang and its cargo is different because it
happened at a politically fraught time, for both Zimbabwe and China, and
because the world heard about it.
Originally only the vigilance of the South African transport workers'
union stopped the shipment being unloaded in Durban. This is a
systematic failure, but entirely predictable because of the lack of
transparency in shipping arms. The dockworkers alerted the world to the
danger the An Yue Jiang and its contents posed. Then there was the sight
of the international community scrabbling around trying to prevent the
ship from docking and the weapons reaching Zimbabwe.
The United States in particular worked hard to stop the shipment, but it
had to resort only to diplomatic pressure. Despite a record of human
rights abuses, Zimbabwe is not currently under a United Nations (UN)
arms embargo. This would be a welcome first step. But there are ways
At the moment the UN is working on an Arms Trade Treaty that could stop
weapons transfers. If a strong treaty eventually becomes law then an
arms exporter will have to block the sale if there is evidence the
weapons are likely to be used to commit serious violations of human
rights law. If they went ahead with the sale, then civil society in the
exporting country or other countries would be able to challenge this
decision -- as they certainly would have done in this case.
Under an effective Arms Trade Treaty human rights would not be the only
criteria used to assess a weapons sale. The effect on development would
also be included. According to research, armed conflict costs Africa
$18-billion a year in lost economic opportunities. On average a war,
civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15%. More than 95%
of Kalashnikov rifles come from outside the continent. So do the
bullets, mortars and other ammunition upon which warring armies depend.
A strong treaty should include ammunition as well as the weapons themselves.
Of course legitimate uses such as defence or policing would not be
affected by an Arms Trade Treaty. Governments who treat their people
well have nothing to fear and neither will legitimate arms producers.
There is support from many arms manufacturers for a treaty: they want
their business recognised as legitimate and the crooks banned from
In December 2006 more than 150 countries voted at the UN to work towards
a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty. This May the process continues as a
group of experts meets to advance it.
Now that it looks like the ship and its contents are returning to China
and civil society, trade unions, human rights groups and others can
proclaim a momentary victory. But if the UNs' meetings do not come out
in support of a tough treaty, this victory will be at best temporary, at
Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a former Nobel Peace Prize winner
and human rights activist
More information about the Debate-list