Global Policy Forum

Arms Trade, Human Rights, and European Union Enlargement

Human Rights Watch
October 8, 2002

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including several that are candidates for European Union (E.U.) membership, have long been a major source of weapons flows to human rights abusers, conflict regions, and clients suspected of diverting weapons to unauthorized destinations. There has been some recent progress to tighten controls, but serious problems remain.

In the coming months, the E.U. can apply its considerable leverage to push for needed arms trade reforms in Central and Eastern Europe. As the E.U. finalizes enlargement negotiations with candidate countries, it has the opportunity to raise topics of concern, secure commitments for change, and provide support for reform efforts. It also can take immediate steps to facilitate the adherence of these countries to high standards, including by integrating them into E.U. information sharing mechanisms regarding arms export practices. The E.U. moreover can make clear that it will continue to actively monitor the arms trading practices of new members, as well as those of remaining candidates, once enlargement decisions are announced.

2001 as Turning Point: Progress toward Reform National arms trading practices across Central and Eastern Europe have come under greater scrutiny since the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. In response to heightened international security concerns, a number of Central and Eastern European countries recently have recognized the need to tighten controls over the trade in conventional weapons.2 The strong desire of these countries to gain entry into the E.U. and, for some, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has helped inspire the impetus for reform. In the run-up to enlargement, NATO and the E.U., as well as some individual member states, have exerted diplomatic pressure for change and in some cases have provided practical and financial assistance to support reform initiatives in candidate countries. Decisions on the next round of enlargement for both organizations are expected later this year.

At the same time, developments since September 11, 2001, in some respects undermined this positive trend. The United States invoked the "war on terror" as a justification to supply military assistance to countries with poor human rights records that it deemed to be key allies in its anti-terror campaign. Some E.U. member states also agreed to supply arms to certain of those countries. Following suit, several countries in Central and Eastern Europe established or expanded arms trade ties with countries like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The result was an undermining of arms export standards that were otherwise improving in the region.

Nonetheless, a number of positive changes have been registered over the past year with respect to arms trade issues in Central and Eastern Europe. Some countries have made efforts to improve national implementation of existing controls and their enforcement. The examples offered here draw on Human Rights Watch's research on several countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. The most notable changes came with the adoption by Bulgaria and Slovakia of new arms trade legislation in 2002. In both cases, national governments promoted legal reforms in response to considerable outside pressure, including from E.U. and NATO countries. Legal reforms enacted by Poland in 2000, which went into effect in 2001, may have helped establish momentum toward change.

Tightening arms trade controls

· In July 2002 the Bulgarian parliament adopted long promised legal reforms. The changes introduced comprehensive arms brokering controls, clarified and strengthened regulatory controls to prevent diversion of weapons shipments to unauthorized destinations, and gave greater attention to international standards on arms transfers. The new law did not, however, make binding the minimum export criteria the Bulgarian government has pledged to follow, nor did it include needed measures to secure transparency and parliamentary oversight, end conflicts of interest, and uphold commitments to destroy surplus small arms rather than make them available for export.

· Slovakia also adopted new arms trade legislation in July 2002, although in its case the reforms fell well short of what was needed. The new law left in place a licensing loophole for weapons shipments that transit Slovak territory, did not address the activities of transport companies and shipping agents, failed to increase penalties, and neglected to enhance transparency of the arms trade or parliamentary oversight. It did, however, mark progress by, for example, introducing controls on Slovak arms brokers, improving regulatory controls designed to prevent weapons diversion, and granting customs authorities greater powers to halt suspicious shipments. These changes followed a December 2001 parliamentary vote to eliminate a legal loophole that exempted international repair and upgrading transactions from arms licensing requirements.

· Both the Czech and Slovak governments, as part of their anti-terrorism strategies, conducted special reviews of past arms deals, rechecking arms trade licenses and scrutinizing arms trading companies. The results of the inquiries were not made public.

· Romania also said it was reviewing arms deals more closely. As an example, officials said that in 2001 they rejected an arms deal by a company that, according to the United Nations (U.N.), is associated with a weapons trafficking network implicated in sanctions violations.

· Officials in Bulgaria also said they evaluated prospective arms deals more rigorously, issued more license denials, and cooperated more closely with international partners to detect suspicious weapons shipments.

Troubling Arms Trading Continues

The growing awareness of the importance of arms trade controls in Central and Eastern Europe is welcome. At the same time, the experience of the past year makes clear that serious problems remain with respect to irresponsible and illegal arms shipments from the region.

A number of recent examples serve to highlight priority concerns with respect to the arms trade from E.U. candidate countries. These are:

· Authorized arms transfers to destinations where the weapons risk fueling human rights abuses and armed conflict.

· The absence of sufficient checks to prevent the diversion of weapons to unauthorized destinations.

· The activities of arms brokers and transport agents who disguise the true destination of the weapons.

· The need to strictly enforce arms embargoes and punish violators. · The sale of surplus weapons from government arsenals to trouble spots around the globe.

Irresponsible authorized arms exports

Human Rights Watch holds that arms exporting governments, consistent with their existing international legal obligations, must ensure that they engage in the international arms trade responsibly and that they not provide military support to armed forces that commit gross violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. Moreover, the E.U. candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe have pledged to strictly follow minimum agreed arms export criteria as established in the 1998 E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, as well as similar standards elaborated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1993 and reiterated in a 2000 OSCE agreement.6 Under these criteria, these governments agree to exercise restraint in the arms trade and block weapons sales to, among others, human rights abusers, those who violate international humanitarian law (the laws of war), areas of violent conflict or regional instability, diverters of weapons, and terrorists.

Specifically, the E.U. Code of Conduct provides that arms exports should not be approved if the transfer in question would:

· Violate U.N., E.U., or OSCE embargoes or other international obligations, including arms control treaties.

· Risk being used for internal repression, where adherents to the E.U. Code of Conduct agree to weigh in particular the record of the recipient country with respect to serious violations of human rights.

· Provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts.

· Threaten regional peace, security, and stability.

· Threaten the national security of E.U. countries or their allies.

· Be supplied to a country that violates international humanitarian law or supports or encourages terrorism and international organized crime.

· Present a risk that the equipment being transferred would be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

· Seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country.

Too often, however, these standards are ignored. Selected examples from the past year help to illustrate this troubling trend:

· In September 2002 Romania released its first ever arms export report, which contained limited data for the 2000-2001 period. Sales to Africa accounted for 26 percent and 18 percent of Romania's arms trade in 2000 and 2001, respectively. An overwhelming majority of Romania's overall arms exports (70 percent in 2000 and 63 percent in 2001) were comprised of shipments of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition, the military equipment most likely to be misused in conflict regions in Africa and elsewhere.

· The official report did not specify to which countries in Africa Romania exported weapons, but a Romanian government official told the Chicago Tribune that Uganda had received Romanian arms in 2001. 7 He claimed it had been Romania's only African arms export client that year. Beyond its civil war and poor domestic human rights record, Uganda has been engaged in a regional conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ugandan forces have been responsible for gross and widespread violations of international humanitarian law.

· Publicly reported customs data from the Czech Republic shows that in 2002 the country exported small arms to Colombia, although it remained unclear for what client.

· Czech arms dealing to Yemen continued in 2001 and into 2002, despite concerns that Yemen might divert the weapons to unauthorized clients, and both sides discussed the possibility of new contracts. A Czech official defended the sales, arguing (contrary to the E.U. Code of Conduct) that so long as Yemen was not subject to a binding international arms embargo, it was an appropriate arms trading partner.

· Poland, too, engaged in the arms trade with Yemen, with confirmed exports in 2001. A 1999 shipment of Polish tanks to Yemen was diverted en route and reportedly delivered to Sudan, sparking an international scandal that drew attention to the risk of weapons diversion and the responsibility of arms exporters to evaluate more carefully potential arms clients.

· The Bulgarian government reported to the U.N. arms register that in 2001 it sold weapons to the government of Chad. Chad has a poor human rights record and at the time this deal took place faced an armed conflict in the north of the country. Political tensions between Chad and the Central African Republic erupted into cross-border violence beginning in late 2001. Moreover, Chad is a suspected weapons diverter. In February 2002, for example, a U.N. report implicated the Chadian government in suspected illicit arms deliveries to Liberia.

· The government of Slovakia has been a major arms supplier to the government of Angola, an unsavory arms client responsible for gross and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Slovakia's authorized transfers to Angola in 2001 included delivery of several combat planes.

· There have been numerous other sales that also raise questions of inconsistency with E.U. arms export criteria, including those that restrict arms exports to areas of violent conflict and instability. For example, since 2001 E.U. candidate countries have supplied arms to, or negotiated arms contracts with, among others, Afghanistan, Algeria, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Weapons diversion to illegal destinations

A number of E.U. candidate countries have been identified as the points of origin for arms shipments to embargoed governments or rebel groups. Where proper checks are not in place to detect false documents, verify end-users, combat corruption, and check on the arms deliveries, arms smugglers are all too readily able to bypass controls.

· One situation of particular concern involving Iraq remains unclear, and Human Rights Watch was unable to establish the facts, but it was reported that Iraq was able to obtain Central and Eastern European weapons as recently as this year. According to Iraqi defectors interviewed by the British newspaper The Guardian, the first of three planned weapons shipments was diverted to Iraq in February 2002.8 The defectors said sales of anti-aircraft rockets, missiles, and guidance systems for long-range missiles had been licensed for export by the Czech Republic to Syria and Yemen, with one defector claiming he oversaw the transfer of the cargo from Syria to Iraq. The allegation was hotly denied by Iraqi and Syrian officials. The Czech government, for its part, stated that it had not approved exports of such equipment to Syria or Yemen in 2001 or 2002, nor authorized any re-sale of equipment sold to Syria or Yemen.

· The Romanian government continued to maintain that it should not be held responsible for the diversion to unauthorized recipients of arms purportedly sold to Togo and Burkina Faso. The U.N. investigated these arms deals, which dated from 1996 to 1999, as part of an inquiry into arms flows to embargoed Angolan rebels. It found that the Togolese documents were forged and that Burkina Faso supplied false end-user declarations.9 Romania could have uncovered the deception before it was too late, had it conducted rigorous checks, for example to evaluate the reliability of the arms clients, establish the authenticity of the documents, verify delivery of the shipments, or carry out post-shipment checks to confirm they had not been re-exported.

· An October 2001 U.N. report revealed that a consignment of small arms sold by Slovakia to Uganda was illegally re-exported to Liberia in November 2000. The report also described the repair in Slovakia, in 2000 and 2001, of two helicopters intended for Liberia, although another destination was declared. One of the helicopters was allowed to leave Slovakia, but the second was impounded.

Controlling arms brokers and transport agents

Cases of weapons diversion can be difficult to detect, particularly because of the convoluted arrangements made to mask the true destination of arms shipments to illegal or sensitive destinations. A major gap in national arms trade controls has been that the arms brokers and transport agents who organize these arms deals are generally not subject to state control.

· In September 2001, a shipment of anti-tank munitions from Iran was seized at the airport in Bratislava, Slovakia. The munitions were to have been loaded onto a Ukrainian plane at the airport and were declared to be for delivery to Angola via Israel, but the cargo was misdeclared. A number of elements of the case raise suspicions, and this shipment forms part of a long chain of questionable arms transfers that have transited through Slovakia. Under a loophole in Slovak law, weapons transit lasting no more than seven days does not require a government license.

· The Romanian media reported in 2002 on the presence in Romania of people allegedly associated with an international weapons smuggling network featured in U.N. reports.

· A 2000 assessment by the Czech intelligence service published in 2001 found that some arms traffickers were able to circumvent national controls by, for example, submitting false documents or partnering with established arms trading companies when seeking export licenses.

Ending the impunity of arms traffickers

The traffickers who arrange illegal arms deals rarely face any consequences for their actions. Criminal investigations are uncommon, prosecutions quite rare, and convictions practically unheard of. The past year, on the other hand, has seen countries take legal action in an unprecedented number of cases. This new trend offers the prospect that-with sufficient attention, resources, and political will-the region's poor record on embargo enforcement can be improved.

· Following a joint Czech-German-Swiss investigation, in August 2002 two Czech nationals were arrested in the Czech Republic and a Russian arms broker with Canadian citizenship was arrested in Germany. The three were accused of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to broker the sale of Russian and Bulgarian weapons to Middle Eastern countries beginning in 1999. Czech officials declined to name the destination countries for the weapons, but a Czech parliamentarian confirmed to the Christian Science Monitor that the weapons are suspected to have gone to Syria, Iran, and Iraq.13 They reportedly did not pass through Czech territory, but the sales allegedly were brokered through the Czech branch of a Canadian company. None of the deals were licensed by Czech authorities, as the company was only registered to conduct marketing activities.

· There was renewed media attention in mid-2002 to illegal arms shipments originating in Poland in the mid-1990s. The case concerns the alleged diversion to Somalia and Croatia of arms that were to have gone to legitimate destinations such as Latvia. It was briefly mentioned in a July 2002 U.N. report on Somalia.15 A prosecution was opened in Poland in 1998 but experienced repeated setbacks, including a district court decision in 2000 that most of the charges had to be dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.

· In May 2002, a criminal investigation was opened against a major Bulgarian arms company alleged to have been involved in illegal weapons deals with the government of Sudan, which is subject to an E.U. embargo. The case also served as a reminder of the need to take formal action to stamp out potential conflicts of interest, after Bulgaria's foreign minister announced that the company had ignored his requests that he be removed from the board of directors following his election to public office. He accused the company of seeking commercial advantage from its association with a top public official.

· A Romanian court convicted a Romanian-Israeli arms broker in February 2002 and sentenced him in absentia to seven years in prison in connection with illegal arms sales to embargoed destinations using false documents. He had been released from custody the previous year, in mysterious circumstances marked by allegations of corruption, and left for Israel, from where he could not be extradited. The broker, who maintained his innocence, has implicated former Romanian officials in the trade. In a related case, the head of a Romanian airline was convicted in early 2002 and remained free pending appeal.

· A Slovak arms dealer faces prosecution in Slovakia following his arrest in late November 2001. He has been charged in connection with a scheme to repair combat helicopters in Slovakia for shipment to Liberia, which is under embargo (see above). Two others, a Russian and a national of Kyrgyzstan, were charged in absentia. The case was proceeding slowly as of mid-2002, in part for lack of sufficient international cooperation.

The glut of surplus weapons

Many Central and Eastern European countries are shedding vast quantities of surplus Cold War era weapons they no longer need. This is particularly true for candidates for NATO membership, as well as new members, who are modernizing their armed forces in line with NATO guidelines. The discarded weapons are sold off to clients that can afford little else, usually unaccountable armed forces in areas of violent conflict in Africa and Asia. The proceeds from such sales help finance purchases of newer weapons, often obtained from European or North American suppliers. With these newer weapons in hand, Central and Eastern European governments are also able to dump onto the market military wares that had been in active deployment, thereby further contributing to the flood of weapons into areas of violent conflict.

· The Czech government announced in August 2002 that it would offer for sale nearly 200 surplus battle tanks and some fifty combat planes. Quantities of police pistols owned by the Czech Interior Ministry were also to be offered for sale, following the purchase of newer equipment.

· Poland too continued to shed its Soviet-standard weapons. In early 2002 it reportedly had some 800 outdated tanks available for sale. It was seeking markets for its surplus weapons in Asian countries, including Indonesia.

· In February 2002 Romania announced it intended to sell off quantities of surplus weapons, including ammunition and infantry weapons, because they were too expensive to maintain.19 In June 2002 it announced that it would set up an agency within the defense ministry to liquidate such assets, and that the proceeds would be used to pay for the country's military modernization drive.20 In a welcome move, Romania was set to finalize arrangements in late September to begin a limited small arms destruction project with U.S. financial assistance.

· In October 2001 the Bulgarian government announced its intention to sell off nearly 200 surplus tanks and other heavy weapons to finance procurement of NATO-standard equipment.21 Destruction of some 100 surface-to-surface missiles, including nuclear-capable SS-23 missiles, went ahead in 2002 with U.S. funding, as did the destruction of considerable quantities of surplus small arms and ammunition. Financial support, however, was not available to destroy heavy conventional arms. Bulgaria's June 2002 submission to the U.N. arms register indicated that it had designated nearly 200 large-caliber artillery systems for export.

· Slovakia's military modernization program was expected to generate further surplus weapons. For example, from 2001 to 2010, the country planned to reduce its military holdings by more than 200 tanks and more than 300 armored combat vehicles.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe have a long track record of supplying arms without regard to how they might be misused. These countries are increasingly being sensitized to the need to exercise greater restraint and responsibility in their arms exports, but the issue requires further attention and concrete action to secure needed improvements.

The E.U. enlargement process provides a continuing opportunity to reshape arms trading practices in the Central and Eastern European countries that are candidates for membership. The ongoing dialogue between the E.U. and candidate countries about meeting the criteria for membership provides a forum for emphasizing the importance of reliable control over the arms trade and adherence to basic norms governing arms exports. The leverage exercised to date by the E.U. has been instrumental in helping to secure important positive changes in this sphere in candidate countries.

The E.U. and its current member states should make every effort to promote needed arms trade reforms by candidate countries as membership negotiations near their concluding phase. In particular, they should make assistance available to help candidate countries and new members address the challenges facing them as they seek to improve arms trade controls. E.U. member states also should make greater efforts to share experiences and information more closely with candidates, and should set a positive example by exercising the utmost caution in national arms trade decisions, in strict compliance with the E.U. Code of Conduct. Finally, the E.U. and its member states should remain vigilant to the arms trading practices of new members, as well as candidates, to help keep these countries on the track toward reform. In this way, E.U. enlargement can maximize the prospect of lasting change at a time of maximum leverage and help raise the quality of arms export controls across the whole of Europe.


To the European Union and its Member States:

· Promote the harmonization of arms trade controls within the E.U. to the highest possible standard. Actively encourage candidate countries and, once enlargement occurs, new members to undertake needed reforms to meet those standards. Take steps to facilitate their progress, including in the form of: o Practical assistance directed to improving legal controls and law enforcement capacity. o Efforts to improve information sharing, including with respect to circulation of denials under provisions of the E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.

· Provide incentives, including financial assistance, for the responsible disposal (for example, through destruction) of surplus military equipment held by candidate countries and new members. Target heavy conventional weapons systems as well as small arms and light weapons. Make the transfer of newer military equipment to candidate countries and new members contingent on the recipient country's responsible disposal of quantities of surplus weapons.

· Unambiguously identify responsible arms trading practices, including strict arms trade controls and the disposal of surplus weapons in conformity with human rights criteria, as a requirement for membership and the minimum standard expected of future E.U. members.

To All Arms Exporting States, including E.U. Candidate Countries:

· Adopt strict arms export criteria on the observance of human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law. Incorporate those into national arms trade law so as to make them binding.

· Comply fully with the E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, the provisions of the OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and any other applicable instruments defining minimum export criteria, as well as the measures of restraint agreed in other fora, such as the Wassenaar Arrangement.

· Combat weapons diversion to unauthorized destinations by improving regulatory controls, with particular attention to controls on the ultimate destination (end user) of weapons shipments, as well as border, customs, and civil aviation controls.

· Carefully review arms export license applications, including with respect to the reliability of the prospective arms trading company. · Regulate the activities of arms brokers and transport agents, and ensure that controls on their activities apply extraterritorially.

· Adopt and strictly apply control on weapons transshipment.

· Dispose of surplus stocks in a responsible fashion.

· Improve legal accountability, including by enacting national laws that implement U.N. arms embargoes, by thoroughly investigating suspected embargo breaches and other arms trade violations, and by prosecuting violators.

· Combat corruption and conflicts of interest.

· Increase transparency and parliamentary oversight regarding the arms trade, including by preparing and making public a detailed annual report on arms transfers and providing advance notification to parliament of pending arms deals.

· Improve international cooperation with respect to arms trade issues, including by:

o Providing legal assistance to support criminal investigations of international arms traffickers and their networks. o Working toward the development of a common and difficult-to-forge end-user certificate and better systems for verification of end-use.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.