Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


The Arms Project of Human Rights Watch was formed in September 1992 with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Its purpose is to monitor and prevent transfers of weapons of all kinds to governments or other groups that systematically commit gross violations of human rights or the laws of war. In addition, the Arms Project seeks to promote freedom of expression and freedom of information concerning arms transfers worldwide.

Over the long term, the Arms Project seeks to build a research base enabling it to establish a country index of arms transfers, at least for the human rights-abusing regimes of most concern to Human Rights Watch. The project will begin with a small list of countries and add new countries gradually.

The project currently has a director and will eventually have two additional professional staff, in addition to consultants and support staff. In the meantime, consultation has begun with arms-transfer monitoring groups, U.S. government regulators and lawyers, U.N. officials, and others familiar with weapons-proliferation issues to explore ways in which arms and human rights issues intersect. In addition, the project has been meeting with experts on weapons, proliferation, human rights, and international law for the purpose of forming an Advisory Committee.

The project is already pursuing several substantive issues. In conjunction with Helsinki Watch, it is preparing to undertake major research in 1993 concerning the illegal use of foreign, and particularly U.S., weapons against the Kurds in the Turkish government's war against Kurdish Workers Party guerrillas. In conjunction with Asia Watch, the project is planning in early 1993 to examine weapons flows to and from Afghanistan, and their connection to human rights abuses there and in neighboring India and Pakistan. In Russia, the project, working with Helsinki Watch, has taken up the free expression case of a Russian scientist arrested and jailed for publicly alleging continued Russian chemical weapons research in violation of a recent chemical weapons treaty between Russia and the United States. In conjunction with Middle East Watch, the project is preparing a research program on recent massive arms transfers to Iran.

The project has also undertaken active work on the issue of land mines. It has begun work in conjunction with other organizations to promote a worldwide ban on the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines, including a revision of the U.N. Land mines Protocol. Two major conferences on land mines are planned in 1993, and the project is committed to producing a global land mines report, drawing on country studies carried out during the past two years by the regional divisions of Human Rights Watch, together with chapters on the current state of the law, and the practical necessity and legal feasibility of a ban.

The project is examining the use of chemical and biological weapons in violation of the laws of war, as well as theproliferation of these weapons, and assisting Middle East Watch in its effort to establish accountability for crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iraqi government's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds is an example of the sort of abusive use of weapons that the project will investigate. The project has also already begun work on issues of U.S. arms export licensing and transfer, including transfers of dual-use technology. Working through the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, the project is seeking ways to introduce human rights criteria into U.S. government administrative decisions on arms export licenses. The project has also drafted letters to Congress concerning specific weapons sales to countries that commit systematic human rights violations, such as jet fighter sales to Saudi Arabia and tank sales to Kuwait.

In all of these projects, the key concern is the promotion of human rights. The project is not a disarmament organization; its touchstone for opposing a weapons transfer is the human rights record of the recipient. It is not concerned per se with security, stability, or global or regional peace, but instead with the proposition that governments that abuse human rights or violate the laws of war, and particularly governments and groups that use weapons to those ends, ought not to have access to them. The director of the Arms Project is Kenneth Anderson, and its staff associate is Barbara Baker.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page