William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
RE: Bulgarian arms trade
Dear President Clinton:
In light of your upcoming official visit to Bulgaria, we would like to draw your attention to Bulgaria's troubling arms trade record and the need to encourage substantive reforms.
In recent years, Bulgaria been implicated repeatedly in arms transfers to abusive government and rebel forces, both through illicit channels and via government-authorized deals. Human Rights Watch field investigations in Angola and Burundi, among other places, have shown that Bulgaria has been an important weapons source for abusive forces. Drawing on these cases, and eager to help stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers, we recently conducted extensive research on Bulgaria's arms trade policy and practices. The attached backgrounder summarizes and updates our April 1999 findings.
Human Rights Watch is encouraged that Bulgaria's current reform-minded government has pledged to uphold internationally recognized standards for arms trading. Bulgaria's international commitments include having joined the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) on transparency and restraint in the weapons trade, and agreeing to follow the European Union Code of Conduct in Arms Exports which sets rigorous standards specifically regarding human rights. Unfortunately, since committing to follow these standards, Bulgaria has contravened the E.U. Code and violated the spirit of the WA by approving arms transfers to areas of violent conflict and to human rights abusers. For example, Bulgaria has played a role in arms supplies to both sides of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea-a conflict that has lead to large numbers of displaced people. As you know, the U.S. government has declared a moratorium on arms sales to areas of conflict and has encouraged others to follow suit.
We have been in contact with the government of Bulgaria and have been encouraged to learn that officials are currently drafting a new arms trade law that is expected for release in late November. An improved law is urgently needed as the current one does not incorporate Bulgaria's international commitments to refrain from selling arms to human rights abusers. In addition, Bulgarian authorities must continue to focus on enhancing enforcement of arms trade controls if illicit and so-called gray market arms deals are to stop..Our concerns are heightened by the planned army reform that has been launched in preparation for joining NATO. Bulgaria has announced that it plans to cut its armed forces by half and dispose of vast quantities of equipment. For example, the number of tanks in Bulgaria's arsenal is scheduled to be reduced from 1,475 to 750 by 2004. While a tank that has been destroyed and converted to scrap metal only draws in a revenue of U.S. $2,000, the same tank currently sells for U.S. $30,000 on the open market. Understandably, the incentive to sell such surplus is very strong, but these lower quality weapons often go to impoverished countries in Africa's conflict regions where human rights abuses abound.
We are hopeful that Bulgaria intends to change its practices, but more prodding may be needed to help Bulgaria overcome the legacy of decades of irresponsible weapons dealing. We urge you to raise these concerns with the Bulgarian government.
Specifically, we are calling on the Bulgarian government to:
* incorporate human rights and humanitarian concerns into national arms trade policy;
* strengthen the regulatory system that so far has allowed shady arms deals to receive authorization and bypass controls;
* enhance accountability for violations of arms trade laws;
* improve transparency and thereby strengthen oversight; and
* dispose responsibly of surplus weapons
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Joost R. Hiltermann