Stopping the Global Terror Trade

Speech at the European Social Forum, Florence, 9 November 2002

First, may I thank the organisers for inviting me to represent Amnesty International on this platform at the European Social Forum here in Florence set up to speak about what you call ‘war nourished economies’.

I want to explain why we live in the terror trade times, and what we should do about it.

Everyone needs safety and security. Without this, we cannot exercise our human rights. Yet, as you can see from the exhibition next to this hall, there are over twenty armed conflicts raging at the moment in different parts of the world. In each of those conflicts, human rights abuses and war crimes are being carried out. But what this exhibition here does not show you is the 60 or 70 other countries where persistent human rights violations are being perpetrated by government forces and armed oppositionists using weapons against unarmed people. If you study this process at close quarters, and you report on the terrible abuses in detail as we do in Amnesty International, you will see that this violence is fuelled by a basic lack of human rights training and accountability, and by the massive international proliferation of arms, mostly small arms and light weapons.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Italian government officials about Italy’s arms exports. I asked the Italian officials why they had authorised the export of 5,000 sub-machine guns to the Algerian government armed forces in 1999 after these forces had committed atrocities on civilians with such weapons. You may know that the Italian law on arms exports —  law 185 of 1990 — specifically prohibits the export of arms from Italy to countries where such arms are likely to be used for human rights violations. Amnesty International in Italy and other organisations campaigned during the 1980s to get this provision in the law here.  Algerian natural gas is being used to power huge parts of southern Europe, including Italy. The Italian officials conceded that further massacres of civilians have been carried out by the Algerian armed forces since the arms were transferred, including a mass slaughter of Berber men, women with children. They conceded that such human rights violations cannot be justified in international law, even if there is an armed opposition group carrying out massacres of civilians and even if energy projects are threatened. When I asked the officials if they knew how to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, they referred me to another government department and joked: ‘We in this unit are the merchants of death’!

Like many arms control laws, the Italian law was designed to allow loopholes for the arms industry to exploit. Here, it is still possible for Italian companies to export revolvers and pistols by simply obtaining the permission of the local police commander! Not surprisingly, Italian small arms ammunition was found during the massacres of city dwellers in Congo Brazzaville in 1997 and it has also turned up more recently in Sierra Leone, used by the armed opposition RUF that committed crimes against humanity there. How did it get there?

Many people assume that arms and ammunition are still sent from one country directly to another by traders in the two countries. But, increasingly, the need to exploit global markets and find loopholes in national arms control laws, mean that the trade is usually much more complex. In the case of Congo Brazzaville, we know from official documents that a German arms broker negotiated a $26 million deal with the then government of Congo Brazzaville to supply arms from Europe, South Africa and the Central Asian republics in return for the sale of future oil production. The deal was financed through a French bank. The broker tried to sell old French military helicopters from South Africa after the Italian government sold new Agusta military helicopters to South Africa. He also arranged for Russian designed-military attack helicopters to be supplied from the Central Asian Republics, along with mercenary pilots. These were used to strafe the civilian residences of Congo Brazzaville, killing over 5,000 civilians and injuring many more, as well as damaging schools and other social infrastructure.  The German broker laundered his money through the off-shore tax havens in Europe. He and the French bank never had to account for their actions or the human rights violations that they contributed to.

What I am describing is a ‘normal’ economic process in today’s global economy whereby functions are increasingly sub-contracted. This is especially suitable for those who wish to evade arms export controls.

A couple of years ago not far from this great hall, in an apartment in northern Italy, a Ukrainian businessman who uses an Israeli passport was arrested by the Italian police on suspicion of arms trafficking to the RUF of Sierra Leone. They found 1,500 pages of documents in his possession showing how he had brokered the sale and delivery of several consignments of arms from the Ukraine to Liberia and Sierra Leone in violation of the United Nations arms embargo. It appeared that he was being paid from earnings of the illegal diamond mining in Sierra Leone and from the Liberian timber trade.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations released yet another report which details how this same man and his East European and African associates were involved in seven further flights of arms to Liberia where the war is still raging and human rights abuses are endemic. Yet this arms broker has just been released from jail in Italy and he is awaiting the outcome of the case.  It appears he did not bring the arms through Italian territory, and that he organised the money transactions not from Italy but from Monaco, Gibraltar and other off shore tax havens where companies do not have to disclose their financial details.
During the fifth week of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, another arms broker based in Rome actually arranged for the supply of nearly $1 million of small arms directly to those who were carrying out the genocidal acts. We have a fax he sent to the commanders of the genocide on the night of the intended arms flight. As the arms in question were loaded onto the cargo aircraft in Tirana for delivery to Goma in then eastern Zaire, it was supervised by Israeli men who had just arrived from Rome.

In a tragic irony of history, Israeli officials who would lay claim to the lessons of the holocaust also allowed the loading in Tel Aviv of two other arms shipments during April 1994 for use in the Rwandan genocide that was taking place at the same time. We know this because we have documents and interviews with the air crew, the pilots and the loadmaster. Generally, the aircrew had included UK and African personnel who had flown the aircraft from Ostend in Belgium to the Eastern Mediterranean for the arms pickups.

The documents and interviews detailing the seven arms flights just before, during and after the Rwandan genocide show that an international organised criminal network was operating from Italy, Belgium, France, the UK and South Africa,  loading up arms from Albania, Israel and Seychelles, and flying the cargoes of terror through Cairo to the Rwandese forces committing the crimes against humanity. The aircraft in question were registered in countries like Liberia where flags of convenience enable massive corruption. The tea plantations of Rwanda were sold to raise money for the arms. No one knows where all the money came from, but millions of dollars for the arms were transferred through Swiss bank accounts and embassies in Cairo, Brussels and Paris. It was laundered through the UK Channel Islands. It is highly unlikely that the West European security services did not know what was going on, not least because some of the traffickers involved had flown arms for the security services in previous years, notably in the ‘Iran-Contra’ scandal.

In 1995 Amnesty International reported the details of the Rwandan arms deliveries to the United Nations. An international inquiry was carried out and seven UN reports were issued on the subject. But not a single person was prosecuted for complicity in acts of genocide, which itself is a crime under the Genocide Convention. The sad fact is that it is not an offence under Italian law if the arms dealing activity is extra-territorial. And that weakness in the law is the same in most European countries. Yet, to their shame, the European governments have not yet closed such loopholes.

You are here today also because you are opposed to the enormous human cost that would result from a war in Iraq. But many wars are already raging and we cannot wait for the next one in order to campaign against the inhumane consequences and human rights violations already being inflicted. In our campaigns, we must address the global economic processes that are used to obtain military supplies used to commit atrocities even where United Nations embargoes have been imposed to prevent this.

It is estimated that over 3 million people have been killed in the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the latest United Nations report. That is more killing than any other conflict since the Second World War. The war economies in central Africa are well described by this and other UN reports — the greedy exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources by foreign businessmen and their local partners, using military forces to seize and hold the Congoís timber and mineral riches — diamonds, copper, manganese, cobalt, germanium and coltan — which in turn are used to buy military supplies and bank funds, mainly in Europe.

One of the main suppliers of arms and military supplies to the armed factions in eastern Congo is a Russian businessman who used to carry out a similar trade to Afghanistan, and whom the United Nations has accused of supplying arms to rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone. He was running companies using over 50 cargo aircraft which were registered in places such as Liberia and Equatorial Guinea, but which have been moved from different countries in Africa to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Not long ago one of his companies was once given a contract by the United Nations to supply humanitarian aid to East Timor. He is now in Moscow hiding from an international arrest warrant.
We do not usually hear or read in the main European news media about the scale or nature of the catastrophe that has been inflicted on the Congolese people. Why are the rights of such African people so forgotten?  We have to counter the culture of racism and greed by European businesses in places like the Congo if we are to defend human rights.

So the next time you make a mobile phone call, remember that inside your phone you may well have components made from Congolese coltan. Think of those 3 million people killed in the Congo. This number is roughly the equivalent of one Twin Towers atrocity every day for the last three or four years!  You can imagine the poor farmers and prisoners forced at gunpoint by Rwandan soldiers to dig out the coltan in the eastern Congo before it is flown away for processing and sold in Europe, Japan and the USA.

Think also about the rough diamonds taken from the Congo and sold in Antwerp, Switzerland, London, New York and Tel Aviv. And picture the arms that ‘mysteriously’ arrive in the night for the soldiers who kill civilians in the Congo, and who are also sent there from Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda.

Amnesty International inspected arms used in the Congo last year around Kisangani where there are gold mines – these came from factories in China, North Korea and Serbia. Other arms being used for abuses have come from Bulgaria, Rumania and Slovakia. And there is virtually no major European country whose arms have not been found in the Congo.

In Angola, we have seen a similar process. Mass human rights violations committed by the armed opposition and by the government forces, both armed by unscrupulous arms dealers from Russia, the USA and South Africa who want the proceeds of Angola’s natural resources. They siphoned off the diamond profits though Antwerp while the massive oil revenues have been banked in off shore tax havens such as the Jersey Islands.

You might be thinking that the war nourished economies are mainly in Africa and Europe. Do I need to remind you that the US government funded General Mobutu in Zaire with millions of dollars for over two decades?  

Right now, the biggest expansion in global arms exports is from the USA. We are witnessing the largest expansion of military and security expenditure by any government for a long time. The current US-led ‘war against terrorism’ is being accompanied by massive transfers of military aid to those governments that have shown little regard for human rights protection. There has been no reduction in existing US military aid to countries such as Israel (US$2.04 billion), Egypt (US$1.3 billion), Jordan, Tunisia and Colombia. Nor have military sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey seen any decline.

In addition, the US Congress has approved an emergency supplemental spending law containing nearly US$1.3 billion. This will enable US arms purchases, military combat training, advisers and military bases for Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, Indonesia and the Philippines – all countries where serious and systematic human rights violations have been committed.

Thus, we have the situation where the US State Department will document human rights abuses, for example by the security forces in Uzbekistan, but the Pentagon and the President ensure wherever possible that the same forces be given US arms, military training and logistical support regardless of those abuses.  

The human consequences of this policy can already be seen if we look at recent history. Amnesty International recently published a report on the US military and police training of personnel in 150 countries. It shows that proper training in how to observe human rights and humanitarian principles is virtually excluded.  US law regarding military assistance only pays lip service to human rights in order to counter any public criticism.

Consider who armed al-Qaíida.  According to its own officials, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave over US$2 billion in light weapons to Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet invasion between 1979 and 1989. Much of this was channelled via the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This US aid, which included training, continued openly until 1991, despite the fact that thousands of Afghan civilians were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by Mujahideen fighters, who were also responsible for widespread beatings, abductions and rapes. Other outside powers, including Iran and China, also supplied the Mujahideen groups with munitions, and they captured arms from the former Soviet Union. By late 2001, the weapons markets in the Taleban-held towns and villages on the Afghan border with Pakistan and Iran, were still reportedly doing a heavy trade in arms, including US and other missiles, and Kalashnikovs, made under licence in China and Egypt.

Osama bin Laden was a wealthy Saudi Arabian businessman who reportedly spent several years in the early 1980s fighting alongside Mujahideen against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and setting up military training camps there for foreign, mainly Arab, recruits. In the late 1980s, a US-based agent for al-Qaíida shipped to Afghanistan 25 US sniper rifles capable of shooting down helicopters, piercing armour or destroying fuel tanks from long distances. In June 2001, local informants reported that Osama bin Laden’s followers bought US-made and other missiles and small arms from dealers in Peshawar, and flew in extra recruits and supplies to a camp southwest of Kandahar. Funds and transport used for such arms deliveries have been the subject of international media reports. Al-Qaíida’s funds were said to come from Osama bin Laden’s businesses based in Sudan, Arab and Pakistani donations, as well as from the illicit sale in Belgium of diamonds mined by the armed opposition in Sierra Leone and traded through Liberia since 1998, a claim supported by witnesses.

Here you can see how the irresponsibility of powerful governments and the poorly regulated global markets for many products, especially arms, provide the backdrop for the development of international criminal organisations which commit crimes against humanity. We live in a dangerous global village where the US government does not act alone. Powerful European states do virtually the same, even if on a smaller scale.

Look at Indonesia. Thousands of people have been victims of arbitrary killings and arrests by the Indonesian armed forces for decades. From 1950 until the Dili massacre in East Timor in November 1991, when most US military aid was cut off by Congress, the US government paid for the training of over 7,300 Indonesian officers. In addition, the US Air Force, Army and Navy Special Forces trained Indonesian Special Forces units throughout the period. US President, Bill Clinton, cut off all arms sales and other military transfers to Indonesia in 1999 after further serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, were committed in East Timor by pro-Indonesia militia backed by the Indonesian police and military.

However, the USA has not been alone in sending weapons to the Indonesian armed forces. France, Germany, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom have all supplied them with military assistance. When the UK and German company that supplied the Indonesian armed forces sub machine guns was told to stop by the UK and German governments after public protests, the company established a licenced production facility with a company in Turkey. The Turkish company continued to supply the same rifles to Indonesia.

Here we see another aspect of the ‘war-nourished economy’ – the massive spread of arms factories, especially small arms factories, from Europe and North America around the world since the 1960s. Indonesia makes its own assault rifles thanks to a Belgian company. Pakistan makes German assault rifles, which it has sold to east Africa. Kenya now has a new ammunition factory provided from Belgium and situated right next to the Great Lakes region which has seen two decades of the worst civilian bloodshed in recent history. The Russian Kalashnikov rifle is made in dozens of countries. The list could go on. But one thing is crystal clear — more and more states which have inadequate capacity and little political will to control arms transfers are nevertheless acquiring the means to make and sell them.

When the United Nations held a world conference last July to address the ìillegalî trade in small arms and light weapons, the Programme of Action agreed contained very weak provisions. The governments of the USA, China and Russia insisted that the Programme would not mention respect for human rights law — in fact the word ‘human rights’ is nowhere mentioned, and the Chair was not even allowed to include the word ‘misuse’ when referring to small arms.

In Amnesty International we know that it is a violation of international law for a state to deliberately transfer arms or military assistance to another state when it is known that the anticipated use of the arms is a violation of international law, for example where the sender can anticipate the arms will be used for serious human rights violations or war crimes. This principle has been set out by the International Law Commission.

Another way of saying this is that there is a ‘Golden Rule’ that no state should transfer arms to anyone where there is a real danger that the arms will be used for grave human rights violations, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

We say: ‘no arms for atrocities’!

Everyone in the European Social Forum has a duty to uphold this principle. You can join campaigns in virtually every country to make governments implement this Golden Rule. This existing rule should be enshrined in an international arms trade treaty. Already, Amnesty International has joined with many other Nobel Peace Laureates to campaign for such a treaty.

Do you remember the international grass roots mobilisation, the publicity and the pressure to get a total legal ban on anti-personnel mines — yes, it was civil society that won the establishment of the Ottawa landmine treaty despite the opposition of the US government and its allies, and despite the weakness of the United Nations. The women workers in Turin who made landmines cried when they were shown pictures of the Kurdish children in Iraq who had their legs blown off. No longer will Italy send millions of landmines to governments like that of Saddam Hussein. We know that not all governments and armed groups abide by the Ottawa Treaty, but it is estimated that the number of victims of anti-personnel mines has already been halved.

We have to broaden and strengthen such campaigns, so that small arms and other arms are limited and brought under strict control according to internationally agreed law based on human rights.

In many countries in Europe, there are already coalitions of civil society organisations, often including national sections of Amnesty International, that are campaigning for tough arms control based upon international law. You can join these coalitions and support their campaigns.

We are demanding that the loopholes be closed now.

Stop the dirty deals of the arms brokers and the traffickers through third countries and the tax havens!

Stop the spread of arms factories to countries with weak controls!

Stop providing military training for human rights abuse!

Unite and campaign for tough arms controls!

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