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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


In 1997, only eight years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the political map of state relations, conflict management and arms control had changed radically. During the Cold War, most conflicts were fueled by superpower rivalry and massive state-to-state military assistance. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. intervened directly in wars or fought them by proxy, but nearly all armed conflicts, whatever their origins in local or regional disputes, had a decidedly East-West cast. As manager of global affairs, the United Nations was paralyzed by political gridlock. During periods of detente, attempts were made to check arms proliferation, which was understood to mean only the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This Cold War order of stability through mutually assured destruction (as long as the other guy didn't pull the nuclear trigger, everything was okay) was largely replaced-from a global perspective-with a disorder of manageable instability (all kinds of triggers are being pulled, but wars are contained) in the first half of the 1990s. A single superpower remained, but its reach was limited, and global power became more decentralized. Conflicts lost their ideological hue: they tended to reflect the real interests of the local, and sometimes regional, actors involved (even if ethnicity and religion were used to mask contests over power and resources). Privatization became one of the mantras of this new order; focused initially on rendering state enterprises more efficient and profitable, the drive to privatize industry began to affect even the realm of national security and military assistance (goods and services). Other key factors affecting this new order were initiatives to promote conflict prevention/resolution, peace building, civil society, democracy, development, and human rights.

Although the United Nations has continued to be hamstrung by bureaucratic inertia in the post-Cold War years, the political deadlock at the top has been broken, and as a result the world organization has begun to take a more activist role, if not always successfully so. Nongovernmental organizations like Human Rights Watch have found that it has become possible to generate political will and mobilize state actors in support of limited reform agendas. In the areas of conflict management, human rights protection and democracy promotion, for example, we have witnessed activities ranging from efforts toward establishing an international criminal court to election monitoring, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian interventions in situations of genocide or other forms of mass slaughter. In the field of arms control, we have seen efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction through international treaties and to contain the proliferation of conventional weapons through codes of conduct, weapons registers and new initiatives like the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) draft treaty designed to control illicit arms trafficking in the Americas, and the European Union Program for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms, which has similar objectives in Africa.

Comprehensive Landmines Ban

The most important development in 1997 in the field of arms control was the adoption of a comprehensive treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in Oslo in September. This profoundly humanitarian treaty, which was scheduled to be signed by more than one hundred governments in early December, promised to put a stop to the terrible havoc this indiscriminate weapon has caused in civilian communities around the world. Some 26,000 civilians are estimated to be killed or maimed by landmines each year, and in 1997 the toll continued to climb-in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraq, Mozambique, Somalia and other areas that have seen violent conflict.

The signing of the landmines ban treaty was a historic event. It marked the first time that states outlawed an entire weapon system that has been in widespread use. The treaty prohibits, in all circumstances, the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of all antipersonnel mines (a minimal number may be kept solely for demining and other training purposes), and requires that all stockpiled mines be destroyed within four years and all emplaced mines within ten years of the treaty's entry into force. It also calls on governments to provide for the care and rehabilitation of mine victims. It is a truly comprehensive treaty that clearly creates a new international norm.

Perhaps as important as the treaty itself has been the process bringing it about, often called the "Ottawa Process." This can be seen as a new, post-Cold War model of innovative diplomacy, driven not by the "big" powers but by middle and smaller states, including those from the developing world. Governments set several highly significant precedents. First, they abandoned the notoriously laborious and consensus-bound approach of the United Nations in favor of an independent fast-track approach. The traditional U.N. approach had encouraged the exercise of veto power by the most abusive nations, permitting the lowest common denominator (in the case of landmines, the no-ban policies of China, Russia, India, and Pakistan) to reign supreme. When it became clear in 1996 that the U.N.-sponsored review of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) would not soon lead to a meaningful ban on landmines, a core group of nations-most notably Austria, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Norway, and South Africa-decided to draft a treaty and negotiate it outside the U.N. framework. The principal idea behind this approach was that rather than seeking to bring everyone on board from the beginning, thereby allowing recalcitrant states to hijack the entire process, core states would establish an unequivocal norm and then haul in the stragglers as international moral momentum built.

The second convention-shattering precedent was the extraordinary role played by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), without whom this treaty would not have come into existence. The ban effort was driven by a large coalition known as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). In 1997 it had a membership of more than 1,000 NGOs in more than fifty countries and included groups in the areas of human rights, arms control, development, humanitarian assistance, the environment, peace and conflict prevention, veterans' affairs, women's rights, and children's rights, as well as religious and medical groups, and organizations specializing in mine clearance and mine-victim assistance. While putting pressure on states to join the effort to ban landmines, this coalition enjoyed unprecedented access to the circles of power, coordinating closely with the key governments, and playing a critical role in drafting the final treaty. In another first for both arms-control and humanitarian treaties, the ICBL had official observer status during the Oslo negotiations, with access to all deliberations and the right to make interventions. This newly forged ad hoc relationship between states and NGOs augured well for future negotiations on other treaties. On October 10, the ICBL was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

The treaty conference in Oslo in September was preceded by a series of events that were important building blocks. These included government-sponsored treaty preparatory conferences in Vienna in February, Bonn in April, Johannesburg in May, and Belgium in June, NGO conferences in Maputo in February, Tokyo in March, and Stockholm in May, and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) conferences in Harare in April and Manila in July. In each case, NGOs played a prominent role in the government conferences, and vice versa. The success of the ban movement was due to this close partnership between governments, NGOs and the ICRC, and the ground-breaking treaty is accurately described as a collaborative effort that had the potential to save millions of lives and change the face of international diplomacy as well.

Chemical and Biological Weapons

The year 1997 was significant for another reason as well. On April 29, the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction (the CWC) entered into force after the sixty-fifth signatory nation deposited its instrument of ratification. As of October 31, 103 states had either ratified or acceded to the CWC, including the Russian Federation, which had already declared it had a stockpile of 40,000 tons of chemical agent. Another sixty-five signatory states had yet to ratify. The CWC represented an improvement over the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (the Geneva Protocol) as it explicitly prohibited the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons, in addition to their use, and created an intrusive verification regime to ensure compliance. The verification provisions include detailed declaration requirements, routine inspections of declared facilities, and short-notice challenge inspections of undeclared, suspected facilities.

Once the CWC came into effect, the monitoring organization established under its terms, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was activated. The OPCW, charged with ensuring State Party compliance with the treaty, began its important work of conducting inspections of declared facilities of States Parties. Member states were required to submit, within thirty days of entry into force of the convention, initial declarations about their possession of chemical weapons and past or existing chemical weapons production facilities. As of October 1997, about a third had not yet done so. Meanwhile, the OPCW reported in September that it had already carried out seventy inspections around the world in the first four months of its existence.

In an effort to meet requests by NGOs and the media, the OPCW's director-general requested the permission of member states to release information of a general nature about the States Parties' declarations and OPCW inspections. Of those states that submitted initial declarations, five did not consent to the release of this limited information. Three states declared that they possessed functional chemical weapons, and seven states declared that they had either existing or former chemical weapons production facilities; of these seven states, five-China, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States-consented to the release of this information. In a move that was praised widely in the media, India also disclosed to the OPCW that it had been involved in the development of chemical weapons-something it had denied repeatedly over the years-but unfortunately declined to allow the OPCW to make this information formally public.

There were also further developments with respect to the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction in 1997. That treaty explicitly banned the production and use of biological weapons but lacked a mechanism to monitor States Parties' compliance with the convention. Official admission by two States Parties, the Russian Federation and Iraq in, respectively, 1992 and 1995, that they had breached the convention by developing, producing and stockpiling biological weapons induced the international community to begin negotiations to strengthen the Convention. Although progress was limited in 1997, these negotiations took at least one big step forward when the Ad Hoc Group charged with this task issued a rolling text in June that was to form the basis of a future verification protocol.

Conventional Weapons

According to figures released by the U.S. Congressional Research Service in 1997, the value of worldwide arms transfer agreements increased in 1996 for the first time since 1992. The United States continued to be the world leader in arms sales. In 1996, the value of arms transfer agreements worldwide was U.S.$31.8 billion. The U.S. share was 35 percent ($11.3 billion). The United Kingdom was second with 15 percent ($4.8 billion) and the Russian Federation third with 14 percent ($4.6 billion). Of these agreements, $19.4 billion were sales to the developing world. Here, too, the U.S. was the leader, with agreements valued at $7.3 billion (38 percent). The Russian Federation ranked second (20 percent with $3.9 billion) and the U.K. third (9 percent with $1.8 billion).

The U.S. also ranked first in arms deliveries made in 1996, with 46 percent of the market ($13.8 billion, of which $9.5 billion went to the developing world). The U.K. again came in second, with 20 percent ($5.9 billion, of which $5.4 billion went to the developing world). France and the Russian Federation were third globally with 10 percent ($2.9 billion) each, though France shipped more arms to the developing world ($2.4 billion).

These formal transfers of arms by governments directly or by commercial companies with government approval, were supplemented by the extensive illegal trade in arms, i.e., smuggled weapons. To contain both flows again posed a major challenge to the international community and NGOs in 1997.

Arms continued to be provided by states to forces that were involved in abuses of international human rights or humanitarian law. Whether primarily pursuing geostrategic interests or propelled by the profit motive, these states fueled the abuses that were committed through the weapons and other forms of military assistance they provided. Among the notable recipients of arms which were involved in abuses of human rights or the laws of war in 1997 were the governments of Angola, Burundi, Colombia, Indonesia, Israel, Rwanda, Sudan, Turkey and Zaire, and a number of rebel movements, including the CNDD in Burundi, the ex-FAR and the ADFL in Rwanda and Congo/Zaire, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the PKK in Turkey, the SPLA in Sudan, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and UNITA in Angola. (According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, there were twenty-seven major armed conflicts in the world in 1996, only one of which-India-Pakistan-was of an international nature.) The principal suppliers were the U.S., the Russian Federation, the U.K., France and China-not coincidentally the five permanent members of the Security Council-but also regional powers like Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Israel and South Africa.

Nongovernmental organizations continued to put pressure on multilateral organizations to establish mechanisms that would limit the flow of arms to the countries that are most repressive and the most abusive of human rights. One such proposed mechanism was a code of conduct, with efforts focused at the level of the United Nations, the European Union and individual governments. In May, twelve Nobel Laureates gathered to endorse the International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, which had gained the support of a large international network of NGOs. Moreover, seven European Union member states agreed to an E.U. Code of Conduct which included a set of eight Common Criteria for Arms Exports that E.U. governments must take into consideration in deciding to issue licenses for the export of arms and ammunition. One of these criteria was "the respect of human rights in the country of final destination," while others related to the overall protection of human rights. These criteria are not binding; a Council Working Group ("COARM") began the work of examining how E.U. Member States should implement them.

On June 10, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the State Department Authorization bill entitled the "Arms Transfers Code of Conduct." The amendment required the president to identify those countries that are either undemocratic, abusers of human rights, involved in acts of armed aggression, or that are not members of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms. If passed, Congress would then have the option to enact legislation disapproving certain countries for U.S. weapons transfers. In October, the fate of the U.S. Code remained unclear as it became caught up in partisan wrangling in Congress over passage of the Authorization Act.

In July, the newly elected Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair announced new criteria that, he said, the U.K. would start applying to all licenses for arms exports. He specified that "Labour will not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression." Lamentably, the government failed to withdraw any of the more than 21,000 existing defense licenses, including one for the sale of sixteen Hawk jets and armored vehicles to Indonesia, but it did block the new but small sale to Indonesia of sixarmored Land Rovers and a shipment of sniper rifles, at a total value of $1.6 million, in September. In August, the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, also freshly elected, declared French support for Blair's initiative, and said that he would study turning it into a European or world code of conduct. Then in October, the Belgian foreign minister expressed his government's support for the initiative. The movement toward a European code of conduct appeared to be undermined that same month, though, when the government of Tony Blair announced that it had approved eleven new contracts for equipment under the so-called military list, worth millions of dollars, to Indonesia.

Another mechanism to control the flow of arms was the (voluntary) United Nations Register on Conventional Arms, which in 1997 was in its fifth year. The register uses transparency as a method of arms control by encouraging states to be open about their arms sales and purchases. On August 29, the U.N. published the register for calendar year 1996, which showed that eighty-five states had provided information on their exports and imports during that year. This was a slight decrease from the 1996 register when ninety-one governments made submissions. In the new report, all the major exporters of defense equipment provided information, and more states supplied detailed descriptions of their exports and imports. Noticeably absent from the register were two major recipients of U.S. military assistance, Egypt and Turkey. Efforts to improve the register this year were unsuccessful. When the Group of Government Experts on the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms met in August to discuss measures to expand and strengthen the register, it failed to agree on proposals to include new categories of weapons, to change the definitions of existing categories, to require states to indicate the specific types of weapons transferred, or to require countries to provide information on procurement through national production and weapons holdings.

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, established in 1996, had thirty-three members and a small secretariat in Vienna in 1997. The principal goal of the Arrangement was to promote transparency with respect to transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies for military uses, and to prevent the accumulation of arms and military capabilities in areas of instability. In 1997, the secretariat was developing guidelines and procedures for member states, a number of which had not previously been involved in an export control regime. Member states had begun reporting on their exports of munitions and dual-use goods and technologies, and the first semi-annual meeting was held in June.

A final mechanism designed to prevent weapons from creating humanitarian havoc, the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (the CCW), has been in force for a number of years but was awaiting state ratifications following the changes made to the treaty by the Review Conference that ended its work in May 1996. The Conference amended Protocol II on landmines and added Protocol IV on blinding laser weapons. As of October 15, 1997, ten states had ratified the amended Protocol II while thirteen had ratified the new Protocol IV. Both protocols require twenty ratifying states before entry into force.

New efforts were made in 1997 to stem the flow of smuggled weapons. In 1997, out of concern about the increase in the illicit manufacturing and trade of small arms in the western hemisphere, the Permanent Mechanism of Political Consultation and Consensus (aka the Rio Group) introduced a draft Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Production of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials to the O.A.S. The draft convention recognized that the rise in arms manufacturing and trafficking was fueling problems, including political violence, drug trafficking, organized crime and other related offenses, that were increasingly coming to be seen as threats to national and international security, as well as posing a danger to the social and economic development of the people in the region and their right to live in peace. In order to achieve its goals at both the regional and international levels, the draft convention set out specific guidelines and obligations for each State Party. These included, but were not limited to: the adoption of legislative measures; the creation of registers of manufacturers, traders, importers and exporters of the said materials; the adoption of a standardized import/export system; and the guaranteed access to relevant information by the participating States Parties. In addition, a consultative committee, consisting of representatives from each State Party, was to be set up to monitor progress on the international level, foster international cooperation in the region, and promote the exchange of information, the standardization of laws, the development of communication, an increase in training and technical assistance related to the issues, and the unification of administrative procedures to ensure that uniform standards would be upheld. A final draft treaty was negotiated in October, and a special session of the O.A.S. general assembly was scheduled for mid-November during which the treaty was expected to be approved and opened for signature. The treaty appeared to enjoy widespread support.

During the Dutch Presidency of the E.U. in the first half of 1997, the E.U. adopted the "E.U. Program for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms," an initiative that had developed out of discussions begun in the above-mentioned Council Working Group (COARM). This program envisaged a number of measures to strengthen cooperation among European customs and law enforcement agencies at the national and international levels, and was expected to focus initially on the light weapons trade in Africa.

Arms Transfers

to Abusive End-Users

In 1997, the flow of arms-primarily small arms, light weapons, explosives, and ammunition-continued to fuel abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law around the globe, especially in Africa, but received little attention compared to weapons of mass destruction. In one positive development, in August, a U.N. Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms produced a consensus report on the worldwide problem of small-arms proliferation despite serious disagreements among panel members on a number of issues. Important recommendations that survived the various versions of the report included a call for a global conference on illicit arms transfers and a recommendation to destroy surplus weapons and weapons that remain after a conflict's end. On the other hand, success in increasing transparency in the light weapons trade, a highly controversial topic of debate, remained lamentably elusive. The report also reflected the bias of its authors in focusing on the activities of nonstate actors while playing down the role of governments in supplying weapons and committing abuses of human rights. The U.N. displayed a further sensitivity to the importance of the trade in conventional weapons in October, when theU.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, told the Conference on Disarmament that the absence of norms governing conventional weapons was of particular concern to him, and that in his view little had been done to curb their rapidly escalating proliferation, a situation that had created "perverse chains of events."

One of the most powerful tools the international community had to control the flow of arms to abusive end-users-international arms embargoes-remained largely ineffective in 1997. The reason was the absence of the embargoes' active implementation and enforcement, with the exception of punitive sanction regimes imposed on Iraq and Libya. Reporting on the implementation of all other embargoes remained minimal, and no actions were taken against violators. In Africa, arms embargoes were observed solely in the breach, circumvented by arms traffickers operating on the territories of nations that kept their eyes shut or even facilitated arms flows in an effort to assist allies and defeat enemies.

The Great Lakes Region

The only ray of hope in 1996, already dimming in 1997, was the work of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry in the Great Lakes region, also known as UNICOI, which had been established in 1995 in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report on arms supplies to the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide and was charged with investigating violations of the international arms embargo on Rwanda. UNICOI carried out its investigation during a period of twelve months, issuing two preliminary reports. Unfortunately, its third and final report, submitted to the U.N. secretary-general at the end of October 1996, though promptly leaked to the press, was never made public, and the U.N. Security Council failed to give the commission a new mandate. As a result, the important investigative work UNICOI had been able to carry out was abruptly halted at year's end, and the recommendations it made were ignored. These recommendations included: the creation of an office, at the time of the imposition of an international arms embargo, that would monitor, implement and enforce the operation of the embargo on the territory of each neighboring state, collect evidence of violations, and make regular reports to the Security Council; the creation of voluntary regional registers or data banks of movements and acquisitions of small arms, ammunition and materiél; the encouragement for regional governments to ratify the Convention on Conventional Weapons; the establishment, on an ad hoc basis, of commissions of inquiry to investigate reported violations of arms embargoes; and the request that states producing arms and materiél take any measure necessary under their domestic law to implement the provisions of international arms embargoes, and in particular to prosecute their nationals who are found to be in violation of such provisions, even if they conduct their illegal activities in third countries.

The U.N.'s motives in failing to release and act upon UNICOI's report remained obscure, but the commission's very existence had a number of salutary consequences: It provided the means to investigate and verify some specific allegations of serious violations of an international arms embargo; it allowed for the consideration of new, more effective ways of dealing with the problem of weapons proliferation in Africa, if not by the Security Council, then by other U.N. bodies and NGOs; and it put those involved in arms trafficking on notice that they could no longer operate with complete impunity, that they were being watched. It is possible even that the commission's work during its brief tenure had a deterrent effect on those most closely involved in the lethal trade.

Absent a serious effort to strengthen the effectiveness of arms embargoes, the imposition of such embargoes by the United Nations, the European Union and, in the case of Burundi, regional coalitions of states remained wholly symbolic. In October, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Sierra Leone, authorizing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo but failing to establish specific mechanisms designed to assist ECOWAS in doing so. Also in October, the Security Council put fresh sanctions on the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, UNITA), on top of an earlier arms embargo, in an attempt to force the rebel movement to join Angola's peace process by prohibiting, inter alia, foreign air traffic-including planes carrying supplies of arms-into UNITA-controlled territory.

The situation in Burundi continued to be cause of grave concern in 1997, and evidence emerged that external actors were instrumental in fueling the highly abusive civil war through their direct transfers of arms to parties to the conflict or their failure to prevent such transfers by private arms dealers. A number of countries, including China, France, North Korea,the Russian Federation, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States, and Zaire/Congo, directly provided military support to abusive forces engaged in the fighting, although France and the United States stated that their assistance had ceased in mid-1996. Other states, most notably Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire/Congo permitted the transshipment of weapons through their territories. Tanzania and Zaire/Congo allowed insurgents to establish bases on their territory, while Kenya served as a headquarters for the various Hutu rebel organizations. Most commonly, private arms merchants took advantage of loose restrictions on arms transfers, poor controls at border points, and/or corrupt officials in South Africa and Europe to ship arms from former East Bloc countries to the Great Lakes region. Belgium and South Africa were particularly viable transshipment countries and bases of activity for arms traders, who have operated with impunity. Using these weapons, the Burundian armed forces and allied Tutsi civilian militias and gangs, and Hutu guerrilla groups have killed tens of thousands of unarmed civilians, often solely because of their ethnicity, and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes during the war. The sanctions, including an arms embargo, that neighboring states imposed on the government of Burundi-but not on opposition forces-in 1996 remained in force in 1997, even if they did not appear to be actively enforced.

In 1997, some of the governments implicated in the illicit trade of arms took small steps to rein in the activities of arms traffickers and mercenaries, who continued to cater to violent conflicts around the world, seemingly unhampered by the few national and international restrictions that do exist on such activities. The Belgian government, for example, announced that it had opened an investigation into the use by arms traffickers of Ostend Airport, a prime transshipment point for arms from the former Warsaw Pact countries to African conflict zones, especially the Great Lakes region. In another example, the U.K. government undertook an investigation of a company registered on the Isleof Man that was implicated in repeated violations of the international arms embargo on Rwanda, after reporters found a series of arms sales contracts in a cache of documents left behind by retreating Rwandan Hutu rebel forces in eastern Zaire/Congo in November 1996. The documents showed that the company had supplied more than $5.5 million worth of weapons and ammunition to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It soon became clear that the company had been able to do so after the U.K. government had failed to request the Isle of Man, a crown dependency, to incorporate the international arms embargo on Rwanda into its domestic law, as the U.K. itself had done in 1994. The government subsequently claimed that this failure was "just an oversight" and that the matter would be rectified. Human Rights Watch called upon the United Kingdom to identify and prosecute violators of international arms embargoes, and to execute stricter oversights over companies registered there and in its offshore dependencies.

The Role of South Africa

Whereas the post-apartheid government of President Nelson Mandela has tried to leash South Africa's aggressive arms-export industry since it came to power in 1994, elements of the old regime continued to ferry weapons illegally to conflicts in Africa in 1997, and arms industry pressures on the government led to a series of controversial official sales as well. The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), headed by the minister of water affairs and forestry, Kader Asmal, in July approved the sale of what it termed "nonlethal" military equipment to the government of Rwanda. The sale had been suspended for almost a year because of concerns in South Africa over the unstable situation in the Great Lakes region. Asmal justified the weapons sale to Rwanda by stating, in October 1996, that "a void [was] more dangerous"; that "the U.N. [had] lifted the arms embargo" on the Rwandan government; that the Rwandan government "is a legitimate government"; that the weapons constituted "self-defense equipment"; and that the value of the sale, 68 million South African Rand (about U.S.$14 million), was "very small compared to what South Africa [under apartheid] used to send to [the previous government of] Rwanda." Human Rights Watch pressed the government of South Africa to reconsider the decision to give the green light to the sale, which came at the time when the Rwandan government publicly admitted the role of its military forces in the campaign to oust Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko, from power earlier in 1997, and evidence emerged of the involvement of these forces in mass killings of Hutu civilians.

In October, the government's primary arms broker, Denel, announced that it was negotiating with the government of Algeria the sale of Rooivalk attack helicopters and Seeker unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The situation in Algeria had just marked a sharp deterioration, with unidentified armed groups carrying out brutal massacres of civilians on the outskirts of the capital. Earlier, though, in August, the South African government vetoed the sale of twelve Rooivalk attack helicopters to Turkey on the grounds, in part, of Turkey's poor human rights record. At the end of August, South Africa's minister of defense, Joe Modise, announced that his government was seeking to sell excess anti-aircraft weapons, infantry vehicles, helicopters, and other war materiél. This announcement came in the wake of media reports that South African weapons had turned up on both sides of the war in Sudan, and raised concerns that excess weapons sold to unscrupulous buyers might also find their way to conflict zones-in Sudan and elsewhere. Human Rights Watch pressed the government of South Africa for guarantees that the excess weapons would not be used in the conflict in Sudan.

In late July, the government announced its new policy on transparency regarding the export of South African arms. Around the same time, it became known that the government had suppressed information about a proposed sale of military hardware to Saudi Arabia. Unable to prevent publication of the recipient country's name, despite having threatened South African newspapers with legal action, the government proceeded to negotiate the $1.5 billion oil-for-arms deal with the Saudi Kingdom, while claiming that transparency in its view did not include naming recipient countries if the latter preferred to remain anonymous.

Finally, the government in 1997 also took one further step in reining in the activities of South African nationals who, marketing themselves as private security consultants, have operated as mercenaries in several African countries. In July, the government submitted legislation to Parliament that would force South African mercenaries to obtain a license to provide military-related services abroad, and that provided for penalties of a one million Rand fine (about $213,000) or ten years in jail, or both. In October, the draft legislation was still being debated.


The war in southern Sudan was in its fourteenth year in 1997. More than a million people have died and millions more have been forcibly displaced, many seeking refuge in neighboring countries, since 1983. In 1997, the war continued to spread to other regions of the country, and threatened to spill across Sudan's borders, as government military support of opposition groups in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda was matched by these governments' military aid of Sudanese rebel groups. A steady flow of sophisticated arms into the region over the past decade and continuing in 1997 has fueled the escalation of the fighting and multiplied its lethal impact on the civilian population.

In 1997, the government of Sudan continued to enhance its conventional arms capability through the acquisition of large quantities of light and medium arms and ammunition, medium and heavy armor and artillery, and air power. Its suppliers in 1997 included China, some of the former East Bloc states, and Iran and Iraq, although Sudan also continued to use weapons dating from previous decades. These weapons appeared to be of Western manufacture, and were likely to have been provided to Sudan when it was ruled by a government friendly to the West. The main rebel groups, the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), had a substantial fleet of tanks and armored vehicles in 1997, many captured from government forces but some also provided by neighboring states. The announcement by the government in June that it would sign the treaty to ban antipersonnel landmines in Ottawa in December came as evidence emerged of the government's use of antipersonnel landmines in the war, and the supply of mines to allied opposition forces in neighboring countries.


The war in Turkey's southeast between government forces and fighters of the Kurdish Workers Party (known as the PKK) also continued in 1997, with Turkish security forces making repeated forays into northern Iraq, ostensibly in pursuit of PKK units. To support their war effort, both sides have made arms acquisitions. The PKK, at times supported by Syria, Iran and Kurdish parties in northern Iraq, has bought weapons on the open market, financed primarily by supporters in western Europe. As for the government, an estimated 80 percent of Turkey's military arsenal consisted of U.S.-made or -designed hardware. In early 1997, the Turkish government announced its intention to make further military hardware purchases abroad, including attack and transport helicopters, battle tanks, armored vehicles and assault rifles, as well as fighter jet upgrades. The U.S., France, Germany, Britain, Israel, and Italy jostled to win multi-million dollar contracts, with no human rights conditions attached, for their industries to upgrade, design, co-produce, and sell military equipment to Turkey.

U.S. arms sales to Turkey continued to be controversial in the wake of the scuttling of a sale of Super Cobra attack helicopters in late 1996, on the grounds of Turkey's human rights record. Despite the apparent reluctance by the U.S. government to rubber-stamp arms sales to Turkey, it made no serious attempt to monitor the use of its weapons by Turkey nor to attach human rights conditions to any arms transfer in 1997. The State Department had provided Congress with an end-use monitoring report in 1995 that was unsatisfactory in a number of respects, and Congress had subsequently requested an updated report by July 1997. The second report better reflected the human rights impact of the use of U.S. weapons by Turkish security forces, but continued to ignore the role of these forces in the forcible displacement of the population of Kurdish villages, and tried to shift the blame for the most egregious abuses to gendarmerie and police "special operations teams" which, the report implied, are not directly under the command of the U.S.-supported military.

In March, the trial of the Turkish translator and publisher of the 1995 Human Rights Watch report on arms transfers and human rights violations in Turkey came to an end. Ertu rul Kürkçü and Ay enur Zarakolu had been accused of "defaming and belittling the state military and security forces" for having translated and published the report in Turkish. The state prosecutor in particular had seized on a reference in the report to the special police teams as "brutal thugs," a term used, as it turned out, by an official at the U.S. embassy in Ankara who was quoted in the report. On March 14, a three-judge panel found the translator and publisher guilty of the charge of defamation, giving Kürkçü a ten-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and fining Zarakolu the largely symbolic amount of 1.5 million Turkish Lira, about $12. The verdict was a violation of Turkey's obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and could intimidate journalists, writers, peaceful protesters, and others concerned with the conflict in southeastern Turkey. Kürkçü and Zarakolu both appealed the verdict; the appeal was still pending in late October. Human Rights Watch, the Belgium-based Reporters Without Borders, and the U.S. government all sent observers to the trial.

United States Policy

Figures released in 1997 indicated that the U.S. was the largest exporter of military equipment in 1996, the most recent year for which data were available (see above). In the most important step forward in transparency regarding U.S. arms exports in a decade and a half, a new congressionally mandated report was issued by the State Department in September. Known as the "Section 655" report (after the section of the Foreign Assistance Act requiring it), this document provides a very detailed breakdown of U.S. arms exports through both government and private channels, including types of weapons and dollar value, on a country-by-country and program-by-program basis. Among other things, it reveals that in FY 1996 the State Department approved licenses for private commercial firms to export $27 billion in weapons. The report was in essence a reinstatement of a reporting system discontinued by the Reagan administration in 1981; the Human Rights Watch Arms Project, joined by other NGOs, initiated the effort to reinstate the report in 1993 by calling on Congress to write the appropriate language into the Foreign Aid Authorization Bill.

Commercial imperatives continued to guide arms transfer policy, while U.S. participation in multilateral efforts at curbing arms proliferation was lukewarm at best. It took serious backroom bargaining and arm-twisting before the Clinton administration was able to garner enough support in the Senate to secure ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention in April, just days before the treaty was scheduled to enter into force. Failure to ratify would have excluded the U.S. from a number of benefits accruing from participation in this international regime and, by depriving the CWC's monitoring group, the OPCW, of a significant financial contribution, would have rendered the treaty's effective implementation unlikely.

Support for the international effort to ban landmines was similarly reluctant, despite the fact that President Clinton had shown leadership on this issue in years past. In 1997, the U.S. at first refused to join the Ottawa Process to ban landmines, launching an ill-conceived effort at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CD). Both the ICBL and the ICRC condemned the U.S. move as diversionary and counterproductive to rapid achievement of a global ban. As it turned out, the sixty-one-member CD was unable even to agree on a mandate to discuss landmines, and could do no more than appoint a special coordinator to try to reach agreement. The CD adjourned amid bitter recriminations on September 9 without even setting a timetable for serious discussion of landmines or any other arms control initiative.

As newspaper editorials in the U.S. started challenging the Clinton administration's handling of the landmines issue, grass-roots activists began bombarding the White House with letters, postcards and a petition with over 100,000 signatures calling for a ban, and protesters organized vigils outside the White House and the offices of landmine producers. In August, under intense public pressure, the president finally agreed to send a negotiating team to Oslo. However, he did so without any change in U.S. policy on mines and as a result the U.S. delegation in Oslo insisted on a handful of amendments that would have gutted the treaty. In a testament to the Ottawa process, each of the U.S. demands was rejected due to strong leadership by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and key governments such as Norway, Canada, Austria,and South Africa. Anticipating defeat in a formal vote, the U.S. withdrew its amendments and later indicated it did not intend to sign the treaty in December. In an effort to ease the embarrassment of Oslo, the U.S. promptly announced that it would continue to pursue a ban in the CD, and that it was now committed to banning the weapon by the year 2006. Left out of the announcement was the fact that the U.S. intended to rename approximately one million of its "smart" antipersonnel mines as submunitions, thus exempting them from the ban. Having failed to convince other governments in Oslo with its attempt to relabel these mines, the Clinton administration was now trying its deception on the U.S. public.

At the end of 1997, the United States had yet to ratify the amended Protocol II to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (concerning landmines) or the new Protocol IV (banning the use and trade of blinding laser weapons). Even though it signed Protocol IV in October 1995, the U.S. was continuing in 1997 to pursue research on tactical lasers that have the capacity to blind.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch

The Human Rights Watch Arms Project was established at the end of the Cold War to tackle the problems and exploit the opportunities that the new world order/disorder was expected to present. In the five years of its existence, it has brought a novel approach to both arms control and human rights advocacy, seeking to set new international norms and effect positive change in the behavior of international actors. In 1997, the strategy continued to be to investigate, to expose, to articulate new norms, to mobilize, to stigmatize, and to effect change, concentrating our efforts on the campaign to ban landmines, exposing the presence of chemical weapons in the former Yugoslavia, and highlighting the role of international actors in fanning the flames of conflict and human rights abuses in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Banning Landmines

Only twice has the international community brought itself to ban a whole class of conventional weapons. One was blinding lasers, the use and trade of which were banned in 1995, and the other was antipersonnel landmines, with the comprehensive ban treaty of 1997. On both occasions Human Rights Watch played an instrumental role. As a founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and a member of its steering committee, and as chair of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines, the organization's Arms Project was in the forefront of efforts to reach consensus on a comprehensive landmines ban under the Ottawa Process. On October 10, the ICBL and its coordinator, Jody Williams, were jointly awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Human Rights Watch participated in all major conferences addressing this issue in 1997, and served as an ICBL representative and spokesperson at the government-sponsored treaty preparatory conferences in Vienna in February, Bonn in April, Johannesburg in May, and Brussels in June, as well as at the treaty-negotiating conference in Oslo in September. It had a prominent role in the organization of and region-wide build-up to the ICBL's conference held in Mozambique in February aimed at fostering the creation of a mine-free zone in southern Africa-a goal achieved just a few months later. In the U.S., Human Rights Watch engaged in regular dialogue with U.S. military and political officials in an ultimately futile bid to find common ground. The organization also visited a number of other national capitals to discuss our landmines concerns in an effort to bring stragglers on board and urge supporters to adhere to a comprehensive ban without reservations. Human Rights Watch was deeply involved in the unprecedented NGO role in drafting and negotiating the treaty, and worked in close cooperation with the key governments in the Ottawa Process.

The Human Rights Watch Arms Project published four reports on landmines in 1997. The first comprehensive exposé of U.S. companies involved in manufacturing antipersonnel mine components was published in April, identifying forty-seven U.S. corporations. Following correspondence with Human Rights Watch, seventeen of these companies agreed to renounce all future landmine production-startling evidence of the power of the mine ban campaign. The devastating legacy of three decades of rampant landmine use in the southern part of the African continent was described in a report released in May, and provided African pro-ban activists with a powerful advocacy tool. It was presented at the mine conference in Johannesburg which led to the de facto creation of a "mine-free zone" in southern Africa. An analysis of the Pentagon's own archives on the use of landmines in the Korean and Vietnam wars was published in July. Evidence culled from these archives that tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were killed and maimed by their own landmines in the wars in Korea and Vietnam made headlines and undercut one of the U.S. government's principal contentions, that landmines protect U.S. forces. The positions of the members of the British Commonwealth on antipersonnel landmines were elaborated in a report published at the Commonwealth meeting in Edinburgh in October.

Monitoring the Prohibition

on Chemical Weapons

In March, less than two months before the Chemical Weapons Convention was to enter into force and its ratification by the U.S. Senate appeared to be blocked, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott urging an early scheduling of a Senate vote on the issue in light of the CWC's hopeful promise to rid the world of this most insidious of weapons. In April, Human Rights Watch sent a statement, co-signed by twenty-six other U.S. NGOs-including human rights, relief, arms control, religious, peace and veterans' groups-urging all one hundred members of the U.S. Senate to vote in favor of ratification of the CWC.

At the end of March, the organization released a report based on a year of research on the existence of chemical weapons in the former Yugoslavia. The continued presence of a chemical weapons production capability in the region posed a potential threat to the fragile peace established under the Dayton accords. Members of the international community, especially the United States, who are aware that the republicsof the former Yugoslavia are capable of producing chemical weapons, were shown to have been reluctant to make this information public. In 1997, the investigation continued of the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bosnian Serb forces around Srebrenica at the time of the collapse of this U.N. safe haven in July 1995.

Part of the interest in pursuing investigations of chemical weapons production, trade, and use was to encourage governments' transparency about existing capabilities so as to stave off a dangerous proliferation and possible use of these weapons in times of conflict. Following research based on documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, Human Rights Watch published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in September disclosing that the U.S. government has only selectively revealed what it knows about the chemical weapons capabilities of other states-protecting its allies as it fingered some of the so-called "rogue" nations. The article named over twenty countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa that, according to U.S. assessments, had chemical weapons programs in various stages of development.

Monitoring Arms Transfers to Abusive End-Users

In 1997, Human Rights Watch continued to monitor arms flows to forces that were involved in serious abuses of international human rights or humanitarian law. In particular, we monitored conflicts in Turkey, Sudan, Angola, and the Great Lakes region in Central Africa, while keeping an eye on the principal arms suppliers: the United States, the Russian Federation, China, the United Kingdom, France, and, especially in Africa, South Africa. Research on Burundi and Sudan was completed in November.

In early 1997, Human Rights Watch drew attention to reported attempts by the Turkish government to make fresh purchases of military hardware abroad. We urged potential supplier governments to refrain from transferring weapons until the Turkish government showed concrete progress to end abuses and bring its military into line with international and North Atlantic Treaty Organization norms and guidelines; and made recommendations to the U.S. concerning end-use monitoring and regular reporting of its findings to the U.S. Congress.

The Great Lakes remained an important area of focus for Human Rights Watch in 1997 as well. The Arms Project initiated communications with governments involved in the supply of weapons to parties in the conflict in Burundi with a view to stemming the flow of arms into the area. We also urged the U.N. Security Council to revive the International Commission of Inquiry (UNICOI) in Rwanda, implement the important recommendations it made in 1996, and provide it with a new mandate to investigate arms trafficking in the Great Lakes region, including Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. Human Rights Watch published an article in the Bulletin of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars in the fall, analyzing the work of the commission and the reasons for its untimely demise.

An important component of efforts to stem the flow of weapons to abusive end-users is the creation of mechanisms that control the export of arms by manufacturing states. Human Rights Watch has supported the campaign to institute an international Code of Conduct on arms transfers, at the United Nations and the European Union, as well as in the United States. In July, as a U.S. Code of Conduct for conventional arms transfers was moving slowly through Congress, Human Rights Watch wrote to Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as part of a coalition of three hundred arms control, human rights, women's professional, development and religious organizations. The Code had been included in a State Department Authorization Act which was approved by the House of Representatives in June. The Arms Project urged Senator Helms to keep the Code provision in this Act as it was debated in conference committee. In October, the Senate had yet to vote on the Act and its various provisions, including the Code.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:

Stoking the Fires: Military Assistance and Arms Trafficking in Burundi, 12/97

Killers in the Commonwealth: Antipersonnel Landmine Policies of the Commonwealth Nations, 10/97

Antipersonnel Mines in The Korean and Vietnam Wars, 7/97

Still Killing: Landmines in Southern Africa,


U.S. Companies and Production of Antipersonnel Mines, 4/97

Chemical Weapons in Former Yugoslavia,


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