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The Human Rights Watch Arms Project was established in September 1992 with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Its purpose is to monitor and seek to prevent transfers of weapons, military assistanc,e and training to regimes or groups that commit gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or the laws of war. In addition, the Arms Project seeks to promote freedom of expression and freedom of information about arms and arms transfers worldwide.

In the two years of its existence, the Human Rights Watch Arms Project has carved out a unique niche for itself in the world of nongovernmental organizations. We have done so by designing a program that incorporates the strengths of both the human rights community and the arms control community. From the former, we borrow investigative and legal-analytical skills; from the latter, weapons trade expertise. Our unique contribution lies in our effort to highlight the link between, on the one hand, violations of human rights and the laws of war and, on the other, the legal and moral responsibility of governments for these violations through their supply of weapons to abusive regimes and non-state actors. The Arms Project is therefore a human rights undertaking that seeks to prevent the physical means of human rights abuse from reaching the hands of known abusers. It seeks accountability from both suppliers and recipients of weapons for the human rights consequences of their transfer.

Two distinguishing features of the Arms Project since its inception have been its commitment to field research and its emphasis on the trade in small arms and other less-than-major weapons. Most casualties in modern conflicts are civilians who are killed or maimed by small arms and light weapons, like landmines, light mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic rifles.

The Arms Project's field research attempts to connect the documented abuse of weapons in the field to their supply. Thus, field research undertaken by the Arms Project begins with the demand side of weapons transfers_their use and abuse_and works from there to the supply side. By focusing on abuse, the Arms Project is able to bring to bear the traditional tools of the human rights movement: international denunciation and stigmatization for the violation of international standards. This emphasis on field research makes the Human Rights Watch Arms Project nearly unique among groups researching arms transfers, which generally emphasize research among government and other public documents. Because transfers of less-than-major weapons have not been tracked in the way that major weapons are, field research has been the best way of investigating this trade.

An area of continued special consideration are weapons which as a class are, or in the view of the Arms Project should be, prohibited by the laws of war. These are weapons that by their very nature are indiscriminate weapons. The Arms Project has identified in this area chemical or biological weapons and antipersonnel landmines. The Arms Project has sought to eliminate these weapons under the laws of war, without consideration of the human rights record of the country or group possessing them.

Field Research

During the Arms Project's second year, missions were sent to Lebanon, Israel, Cambodia and Angola. In the meantime, several research projects initiated during the first year were completed or are nearing completion. These missions/projects included the following:


In January 1994, the Arms Project published a 64-page report, Arming Rwanda: The Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses in the Rwandan War. The publication of this previously unknown information on French, South African, Egyptian, and Ugandan involvement in the Rwandan war put tremendous pressures on those governments to halt their military assistance to both sides in the conflict_the government of Rwanda and the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The report, while reproducing secret documentation on plans for the Hutu militias, became a primary source of information in the massive coverage of previously-ignored Rwanda that followed the Hutu government's genocidal campaign. The report contributed greatly to the pressures on France to assure the U.N. that its post-genocide military intervention would be strictly humanitarian in nature.


In the spring of 1994, the Arms Project published a 136-page book, Landmines in Mozambique. It describes the types of mines that have been laid in Mozambique, the human cost these mines have exacted, and the mine clearance activities that have been undertaken by the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. The report caused the Mozambican government, its RENAMO opponents, and the U.N. to justify their lack of effort to address the landmine crisis in Mozambique, thereby putting pressure on all sides to improve their performance in this regard.


In September 1994, the Arms Project issued a 59-page report, Arms and Abuses in Indian Punjab and Kashmir. This report focuses on the arms flow from the U.S.-orchestrated "Afghan pipeline" in Pakistan to militants fighting separatist wars in Kashmir and the Punjab in India. These weapons have been used to commit numerous, serious violations of humanitarian law, including direct attacks on unarmed civilians, indiscriminate attacks, summary executions, rape, hostage-taking, threats to commit bodily harm, and the use of religious sites for military purposes.


In May-June 1994, a researcher from Human Rights Watch/Africa traveled to Angola on behalf of the Arms Project to investigate arms flows into Angola and violations of the laws of war by both the government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) forces since the September 1992 elections. The mission also involved research in Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In a 176-page book issued on November 15, 1994, Arms Trade and Violations of the Laws of War Since the 1992 Elections, the Arms Project concluded that Angola's "forgotten war," fueled by a steady supply of weapons to both sides, has claimed an estimated 100,000 civilian lives since September 1992, and that both the government and the UNITA rebels are responsible for an appalling range of violations of the laws of war. Several countries have supplied weapons or provided other forms of military assistance to the two parties to this conflict, including Russia, Brazil, North Korea, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, South Africa, Zaire, Namibia, and the United States.


In October and November 1993, the Arms Project undertook missions to Lebanon and Israel to investigate violations of the laws of war and illegal use of weaponry by all parties during the fighting that took place in July 1993. The Arms Project concluded that there is extensive evidence of indiscriminate attacks by Israeli forces against the population of southern Lebanon, as well as by guerrillas affiliated with the Hezbollah movement against Israeli civilians. Many of the weapons systems deployed by Israel in the conflict were of American manufacture, and their use by Israel suggests, in addition to possible violations of U.S. law, the difficulty the U.S. faces in controlling the use of weapons transferred to "friendly" governments.


In collaboration with Human Rights Watch/Asia, the Arms Project sent a researcher to Cambodia and Thailand in February-March 1994, and again in August 1994, to investigate violations of the laws of war in the fighting between the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge. The pattern of fighting in Cambodia, typified by mortar bombardment and mine-laying more than by direct engagement, has always taken a heavy toll on civilians. The researcher also examined the transfer of weapons, military aid, and other services by Thailand, which has a long history of military and logistical support to the Khmer Rouge, as well as by Indonesia and other governments to both parties.


The Arms Project and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a mission to Abkhazia in 1993 to study violations of the laws of war and abuses of weaponry during the conflict between Georgian and Abkhazian forces there. In particular, the mission documented indiscriminate attacks, mass hostage-taking, and forced relocation of population groups based on their ethnicity by both sides, and took a close look at the role played by Russian forces in the war.

Antipersonnel Landmines

The Human Rights Watch Arms Project was at the forefront of the rapidly growing international anti-landmines movement as a member of the "Steering Committee" of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The ban is now endorsed by nearly two hundred NGOs, as well as by the ICRC, UNICEF, UNHCR, and the U.N. Secretary-General. Editorials endorsing the ban have appeared in The New York Times, the Economist, and many other newspapers and magazines. The U.S. government has also accorded landmines a high priority: On September 26, 1994, President Clinton in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly announced for the first time that the U.S. intends to seek the eventual elimination of antipersonnel landmines.

In 1994, the Arms Project continued work on a comprehensive data base on the production, stockpiling, and trade of landmines. The results of this work, along with the entire data base, are scheduled to be published in early 1995. The staff of the Arms Project also published a number of articles and presented several papers on landmines during the past year. In 1994, the Arms Project closely monitored a series of U.N. Experts Meetings held in Geneva in preparation for the 1995 Review Conference for the 1980 Landmine Protocol.

Data Base and

Documentary Research

The Arms Project continued documentary research on the arms trade as it concerns human rights abusers, with a focus on the trade in light weapons and small arms. In doing so, we made extensive use of the Freedom of Information Act. A computerized data base was established and target countries were identified. During the coming year, the Arms Project intends to begin data entry. The significance of this data base is that it will provide information not previously available that may act as a catalyst for mobilizing public opinion around the transfer and use of particular weapons systems.

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