The Human Rights Watch Arms Project was established in 1992 to monitor and seek to prevent the transfer of weapons and the provision of military assistance and training to governments or armed groups that commit gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or the laws of war. A corollary of this is to promote freedom of expression and freedom of information about arms and arms transfers worldwide. In addition, the Arms Project seeks to eliminate weapons which as a class are, or should be, prohibited by the laws of war, without consideration of the human rights record of the country or group possessing them. These are weapons that are by their very nature indiscriminate or cruel and inhumane.
The Human Rights Watch Arms Project is unique because it straddles the human rights movement (from which we derive our basic philosophy, motivating energy, fact-finding methodology, and expertise in international law) and the arms control community (from which we draw our expertise in the arms trade and the development of weapons systems). Through our research and advocacy, we put the spotlight on violations of human rights and the laws of war, and place the legal and moral responsibility for these violations at the doorstep of governments that have supplied weapons or other forms of military support to the violators.
We attempt to document the link between weapons used in specific abuses to the supply of these weapons through a combination of documentary research (including, in the U.S., analysis of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act) and field investigation. By combining our ability to uncover new information with the capabilities of Human Rights Watch to advocate change, we have become increasingly effective in stigmatizing governments or forces that are guilty of, or complicit in, weapons-related abuse. Our methodology encompasses research into the full range of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. Field research to date has focused on the trade in light weapons and small arms, bringing to these weapons a small reflection of the attention given to the tracking of non-conventional and major conventional weapons through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations conventional arms register. Except for artillery (for example, in the cases of Bosnia and Angola), it is light weapons and small arms that are used most frequently in human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war.
In 1995, the Human Rights Watch Arms Project developed its program to elaborate existing projects (landmines), expand into new areas (chemical and biological weapons, and blinding lasers), and vigorously pursue more effective campaign strategies. During the past year it was the Arms Project's capacity to reveal new information on the transfer and use of arms that led to a series of concrete successes. After our reports, a sale of U.S. cluster bombs to Turkey was stopped and the attention of the U.N. Security Council was drawn to the re-arming, by France, Zaire and others, of the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. The United States agreed to new prohibitions in international law on blinding lasers after the Arms Project publicized the secret development of tactical laser weapons in the U.S.; and not long afterward, the U.S. halted the production of the Laser Countermeasure System (LCMS), a portable laser weapon singled out by the Arms Project for its capability to blind persons within a range of 3,000 feet. The Arms Project also contributed to decisions by the U.N. General Assembly to adopt a resolution endorsing the goal of the eventual elimination of antipersonnel landmines, and by the U.S. Senate to pass an amendment mandating a one-year moratorium on use of antipersonnel landmines by U.S. forces.
The Work of the Arms Project
Targeting Weapons Systems
In 1995, the Arms Project initiated new programs on chemical and biological weapons and on blinding laser weapons. Meanwhile, as a member of the steering committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines we continued research and advocacy efforts aimed at obtaining a total ban on antipersonnel landmines and attended the Review Conference on the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, or the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), in Vienna in September-October 1995.
During 1995, the landmines crisis worsened. During the last year, approximately 100,000 landmines were removed in mine clearance operations while approximately 2.5 million new mines were laid down by warring factions. At the same time, there have been some stunning developments toward a ban on antipersonnel landmines. In the past year, the number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) endorsing a ban has grown from under sixty to more than 350. There are now organized national campaigns in approximately thirty nations, with recent launches in Afghanistan and South Africa. After President Clinton embraced the goal of the eventual elimination of antipersonnel landmines by the U.S. in a speech at the U.N. in September 1994, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing a similar goal in December 1994. In March 1995, Belgium became the first nation to enact legislation to ban production, export and use of mines. Seventeen other nations have declared support for an immediate and comprehensive ban, while thirty nations have announced a moratorium on the export of mines. In July 1995, both the European Parliament and the Organization of African Unity passed resolutions calling for a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines. At the end of October, the U.S. House-Senate conference committee on the Foreign Operations bill accepted the Leahy amendment mandating a one-year moratorium on the use of antipersonnel landmines by U.S. forces. The bill had yet to be voted on by both the House and Senate, and signed by President Clinton, before the law will take effect.
As a member of the steering committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Arms Project has played an important role in these developments. Our advocacy efforts continue to be centered on four main areas: international legal and diplomatic initiatives; public education and organizing activities to build the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; coalition building to increase participation in the campaign by organizations from the developing world; and public education and organizing to create a more broad-based U.S. campaign.
At the Review Conference on the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons in Vienna in September-October 1995, we urged governments to adopt a total ban, and failing that, to strengthen Protocol II on landmines by adopting new verification and compliance provisions, expanding the scope of the protocol to cover non-international conflicts, mandating regular and frequent review of the CCW, and other measures. Regrettably, the conference unexpectedly ended in deadlock, with nations unable to agree even on modest changes. The conference is expected to reconvene in January and April 1996. During the coming year, the Arms Project intends to continue to work at both the international and national levels to enhance prospects for a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel landmines.
Blinding Laser Weapons
In the spring of 1995, the Arms Project discovered from documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that the United States has been developing at least ten separate tactical laser weapon systems. In a May 1995 report publicizing these systems, U.S. Blinding Laser Weapons, we drew a great deal of media attention to this previously unknown and undiscussed issue, with coverage in The New York Times, The Financial Times, Jane's Defense Weekly, Defense News, and other U.S. and foreign newspapers and specialized publications. The Arms Project had several meetings with U.S. government officials to express our concern about these weapons, as well as with officials of Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, NATO, the European Commission, the European Council, and members of the European Parliament. We also worked hard to bring together individuals and organizations in the United States and Europe on the issue of blinding laser weapons, urging them to raise it with their governments and within their communities.
In June 1995, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a ban on laser weapons that can cause blindness. More significantly, following our disclosures, the U.S. government announced a formal policy on blinding lasers on September 1, reversing both its opposition to any regulation of laser weapons and its previous position that intentional blinding is a legal and acceptable method of warfare. However, the new policy statement contained a loophole designed to permit continued use of laser weapons categorized as "anti-optical" or "anti-sensor" systems. In fact, the day before the surprise release of the policy statement, the U.S. Army awarded a seventeen million dollar contract for initial production of a laser weapon known as the Laser Countermeasure System (LCMS), an "anti-optical" weapon mounted on an M-16 rifle which the Army acknowledges fires a laser beam powerful enough to burn out human retinas from 3,000 feet away.
Just prior to the September-October 1995 Review Conference of the CCW, the Arms Project released its second report on lasers, Blinding Laser Weapons: The Need to Ban a Cruel and Inhumane Weapon. This report made new revelations about U.S. and other laser weapon programs, gave a comprehensive analysis of the military, humanitarian, and legal considerations surrounding blinding lasers, and evaluated possible protocol language. Sustained advocacy efforts by Human Rights Watch, the ICRC, and others, were instrumental in gaining acceptance of a new protocol on blinding laser weapons at the Review Conference. One year ago, very few observers would have believed that passage of a protocol was possible. While weaker than Human Rights Watch would like, the new protocol establishes the crucial principle that deliberate blinding is barbaric and an unacceptable way to wage war. Unfortunately, the new protocol contains the same loophole as the new U.S. policy statement, and allows an entire category of laser weapons to escape regulation.
However, in another sudden reversal, the U.S. announced on October 12 that it was canceling the LCMS program. It is ironic that the decision to terminate LCMS was made at the very time that the U.S. delegation in Vienna was insisting that the protocol include a loophole through which the LCMS could be used. Human Rights Watch believes that the LCMS cancellation reflects both a recognition at the highest levels of the Pentagon of the lack of military utility of this weapon system and concern about pursuing this weapon in light of the new policy against blinding.
Chemical and Biological Weapons
In the spring of 1995, the Arms Project launched a major new endeavor by establishing its chemical and biological weapons program. The objective of the program is to strengthen efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by introducing a human rights component into the debate. We envision doing so in a number of ways: providing a human rights analysis of the proliferation question; helping to better enforce an existing norm by further stigmatizing chemical and biological weapons as indiscriminate, cruel and abhorrent to the human conscience; and lending our investigative skills to attempts to uncover evidence of illegal chemical/biological weapons production, stockpiling, trade or use.
During the first half year of the program, efforts centered on two main areas of work: the building of a network of experts, and a preliminary investigation into cases of alleged CW or BW use. Moreover, the Arms Project has made contact with a number of nongovernmental organizations, both in the human rights and arms control communities in the United States and Europe, to exchange information, and has met with government officials, attended unclassified government meetings on CBW, submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to several branches of the U.S. military for information on chemical and biological issues, and collected reports and testimony on CBW issues and proliferation concerns.
The emerging network has enabled us to begin to develop a capability to respond to allegations of CBW production, stockpiling, trade and use. Depending on the outcome of future investigations, the Arms Project will seek to highlight the use of CBW in modern conflicts, despite the existing prohibitions, and lend its weight to efforts by those who seek ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the addition of a verification regime to the Biological Weapons Convention. Additionally, the Arms Project intends to monitor the international trade in CW and BW components, much as we monitor the trade in conventional weapons. Finally, we intend to serve as an address and source of protection for whistle-blowers, or will blow the whistle ourselves, in cases where we obtain evidence of illegal manufacturing or transfer of chemical and biological weapons.
In seeking to curb the proliferation of light weapons to human rights abusers, our work contributes to regional arms control, peace and stability. Because arms-supplying governments are often sensitive to embarrassing publicity and do not want to be stigmatized by the international community, shining a spotlight on policies that permit such arms transfers encourages governments to cut off the arms flow to abusive forces and halt one of the worst forms of proliferation. In addition, our presence in the field allows us to identify the role of arms flows in fostering serious tensions and potentially explosive situations at an early stage, and thus positions us best for work on early warning and conflict prevention.
In 1994-1995, after the genocide in Rwanda, an Arms Project consultant spent four months in Rwanda and Zaire, interviewing scores of United Nations and NGO representatives, Rwandan and Zairian government officials, members of the exiled Rwandan forces responsible for the genocide, and persons involved in the arms trade. In a report released in May 1995, Rearming with Impunity: International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide, we implicated France, Zaire, South Africa, China and the Seychelles for either directly providing arms to the Rwandan Hutu forces, or for facilitating shipments of arms from other sources. Subsequent to the report, Human Rights Watch wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali apprising the Security Council of our findings, and we met with officials at various missions to the U.N., including the French mission. We also met with the chairman ofthe U.N. sanctions committee on Rwanda, Ambassador Nugroho Wisnumurti, who is the representative of Indonesia to the U.N.
The report had tremendous resonance, receiving wide coverage in the international media. The United Nations Security Council incorporated three of our key recommendations in Resolution 997 of June 9, 1995: a call for consultations with the governments of neighboring countries on the possibility of the deployment of U.N. military observers at airports in eastern Zaire; an affirmation that the arms embargo under Resolution 918 (1994) applies to forces in states neighboring Rwanda if such weapons are intended for use within Rwanda; and a call for effective measures to prevent military activities by Rwandan nationals in neighboring states aimed at destabilizing Rwanda, and to prevent them from receiving arms.
In Europe, the report was widely circulated among members of the European Parliament, and several members raised questions related to the report in its Development Committee, Sub-committee on Human Rights, Foreign Affairs Committee and others. In South Africa, the government denied the allegations made in our report, but at the same time launched an official inquiry. In August, it instituted new procedures for arms exports. The parastatal arms export agency, Armscor, which was not mentioned in our report, also issued a denial, but suggested that arms manufactured in South Africa could have found their way clandestinely to Rwanda and Burundi. Armscor also opened files documenting arms sales to Rwanda totaling one hundred million South African rand in the five years preceding August 1993_well before the U.N. arms embargo on Rwanda, but all the same this should be seen as a step toward greater transparency in arms transactions. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a flat denial at the end of May, but to our knowledge the French government did not carry out a serious inquiry into any of the allegations we made in our report. A separate statement by officials at the Ministry of Cooperation suggested that French arms shipments had in fact taken place.
In Zaire, President Mobutu Sese Seko reacted to the Human Rights Watch report on May 30 by pledging that "Zaire will never be the base for the reconquest of another land." Zaire's prime minister, Kengo wa Dondo, declined to either confirm or deny allegations of arms supplies reaching the Rwandan Hutu exile forces in Zaire, but said that those making the accusations had not provided his government any evidence of the allegations. Kengo wa Dondo then called on the U.N. to send a fact-finding mission to Zaire to investigate charges that Hutu extremists were conducting military training exercises in eastern Zaire. Zaire rejected a request by the Security Council to permit the deployment of U.N. military observers under Resolution 997. In June, Human Rights Watch met with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Zaire, Ambassador Roberto Garretón, to brief him on the militarization of the refugee camps and arms transfers in eastern Zaire.
In a letter to the Security Council in August during the debate on lifting the arms embargo on Rwanda, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the measure would result in a greater flow of arms to the Great Lakes region and further destabilize the situation. The embargo was suspended for one year on August 16 under Resolution 1011. On September 7, the Security Council voted to approve the establishment of an international commission to investigate allegations of arms flows to former Rwandan government forces in the Great Lakes region. The six-member commission traveled to the region in early November. The creation of the commission was a positive development but fell short of our principal demand to have U.N. military observers deployed at key airports in Zaire.
In December 1994, the Arms Project published a report about the sale, U.S. Cluster Bombs for Turkey?, offering much detail on the nature of cluster bombs. In a letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher accompanying the report, we urged the United States to deny the company's request for an export license in light of Turkey's record and, in particular, our concern that Turkey would use these weapons indiscriminately in its conflict with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The report received wide coverage in the press and specialized defense magazines. Partly as a result of our disclosure of the pending sale, the deal was canceled. In addition to attempting to block this particular sale, the Arms Project also urged the U.S. to monitor carefully the use of the lethal equipment that it provides Turkey, and to introduce end-use monitoring as a consistent and highly visible element of any U.S. military assistance to Turkey in the future.
In the spring of 1995, the Arms Project began an in-depth investigation of arms transfers to the government of Turkey in light of the increasingly violent and abusive conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK. Both sides have committed gross abuses of human rights and the laws of war, targeting civilians as if they were combatants. Moreover, the Turkish military has undertaken a scorched earth campaign in the Kurdish countryside, destroying hundreds of villages and forcibly relocating the rural population, while engaging in extrajudicial executions and torture. Turkey continues to enjoy great support from NATO for political and military reasons, and this has cushioned the government from international rebuke for its treatment of its Kurdish population.
In June 1995, the U.S. Department of State issued a ground-breaking report ("Report on Allegations of Human Rights Abuses by the Turkish Military And on the Situation in Cyprus") admitting that Turkey engages in gross abuses such as torture, extrajudicial executions and forced village evacuations. The report also conceded that "U.S.-origin equipment, which accounts for most major items of the Turkish military inventory, has been used in operations against the PKK during which human rights abuses have occurred." The report, which was not based on original investigative research, failed to provide concrete proof of the use of U.S. weapons in specific violations, however, and understated the role of U.S. weapons in the village eradication campaign.
The Arms Project sent a consultant to Turkey in June 1995 to obtain detailed information about the forced evacuation of Kurdish villages, focusing on the use by Turkish security forces of U.S. and other weaponry. In a report released in November 1995, the Arms Project presented the results of this investigation. Drawing on twenty-nine case studies of events that occurred between 1992 and 1995, the report linked specific weapons systems to individual incidents of Turkish violations. Supplemented by interviews with former Turkish soldiers, U.S. officials and defense experts, the report concluded that U.S. weapons, as well as those supplied by other NATO members, are regularly used by Turkey to commit severe human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war in the southeast.
In November 1994, the Arms Project published Angola: Arms Trade and Violations of the Laws of War since the 1992 Elections. This report was the result of an on-going investigation by a researcher with Human Rights Watch/Africa on behalf of the Arms Project. The report (which included a summary in Portuguese) concluded that Angola's "forgotten war," in which an estimated 100,000 civilians have lost their lives, was fueled by a steady supply of weapons to both sides. Indeed, before the recent peace accords, the government of Angola was the largest arms purchaser in sub-Saharan Africa, mortgaging its future oil production to finance an estimated U.S.$3.5 billion worth of weapons imports in 1993 and 1994. The rebel movement National Union for the Independence of Angola (UNITA) also was involved in large purchases of weapons from both private dealers and foreign governments. The report named the following countries as having supplied weapons or other forms of military assistance to the two parties to this conflict: Russia, Brazil, North Korea, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, South Africa, Zaire, Namibia and the United States.
The report, the release of which was timed to coincide with the signing of a peace treaty by the Angolan government and UNITA, succeeded in crystallizing international attention on the need for human rights monitors as part of the U.N. mission to Angola_one of the report's main recommendations. In its deliberations on November 20, 1994, the Security Council relied on facts and figures provided in our report before deciding to send peacekeepers to Angola and calling on both the government and UNITA to cease acquisition of arms_another of our key recommendations. Moreover, British soldiers being prepared for their participation in that mission were put through an intensive human rights monitoring course based, inter alia, on the findings of our report, which became required pre-deployment reading. In 1995, the researcher returned to Angola for a follow-up investigation into continuing arms flows to Angola.
The report (which included a summary in Russian) was released at a press conference in Moscow in March 1995. Prior to that, the Arms Project and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki had presented the organization's findings to the principal actors in the conflict in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, in Sukhumi, the capital of the Abkhaz region, and in Moscow while carrying out a field investigation into further abuses during the post-war period. In conversations with government officials, we pressed the following issues: investigation and prosecution of war crimes by both sides; accountability of irregular forces; the return of internally displaced persons; the extension of the mandates of U.N. forces and Russian forces operating under the aegis of the Commonwealth of Independent States; a halt to continuing violence in the Gali region along the frontline between the opposing forces; and the need for vastly expanded efforts to demine the conflict zone to allow for the repatriation of some 200,000 remaining displaced persons. We also met with the U.N. special envoy to Georgia and with members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Permanent Council, and wrote to the U.N. secretary-general and to senior officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Human Rights Watch continues to inject human rights considerations into the on-going peace process.
The United Nations and International Standards
During three weeks in September and October, state parties to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons met in Vienna for the CCW's first review since the treaty came into force. The focus of the review conference was on new restrictions on use of landmines, but nations were unable to reach agreement on even modest changes in the Landmines Protocol and will have to resume negotiations in January and April 1996. An important new protocol restricting use and transfer of blinding laser weapons was adopted (see above).
The U.N. Register of Conventional Arms was in its third year of operation in 1995. Despite inaccurate submissions by some nations, and noncompliance by others, the register continues to be a major source of information on global arms trade and an important mechanism toward greater transparency and accountability, as well as greater trust between nations. The register covers only seven types of major conventional weapons systems, however, and contains no information on light weapons or small arms.
In 1995, the U.N. maintained arms embargoes on Iraq (imposed as part of a full trade embargo imposed in 1990), states of the former Yugoslavia (1991), Somalia (1992), Libya (1992), Liberia (1992), and Angola (1993). The arms embargo imposed on Rwanda in 1994 was modified in June 1995 to apply to "the sale or supply of arms and matériel to persons in the States neighboring Rwanda, if that sale or supply is for the purpose of the use of such arms or matériel within Rwanda." In August 1995, the U.N. Security Council suspended the arms embargo on the supply of arms to the government of Rwanda for the period of one year, until September 1, 1996 (see above).
In 1995, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was opened for signature in January 1993, garnered more ratifications, although the two critical countries in this regard, the United States and the Russian Federation, have yet to decide on ratification. As of September 1995, thirty-eight states had ratified the convention, out of sixty-five ratifications that are required for the convention to enter into force.
In July 1995, state parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention met in Geneva as part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Group of BWC State Parties to discuss definitions of terms and objective criteria, confidence-building and transparency measures, measures to promote compliance/verification, and measures related to Article X on technological cooperation. A third session was scheduled for the end of November 1995. The Ad Hoc Group is mandated to develop a proposal for a legally binding verification protocol in preparation for the fourth review conference of the BWC, which is now expected to take place toward the end of 1996.
United States Policy
In March, the U.S. Congress ratified the Convention on Conventional Weapons, including the CCW's Protocol I on undetectable fragments and Protocol II on landmines. The Clinton administration has not sent Protocol III on incendiary weapons to Congress. After the international community agreed to the adoption of a new protocol (Protocol IV) on laser weapons in October, the U.S. government will be expected to ratify that protocol as well. The U.S. also had yet to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ratification has been held up in Congress by the office of Senator Jesse Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In May 1995, the House Committee on International Relations narrowly defeated (18-17, with eight members not voting) a proposed Code of Conduct on U.S. arms transfers, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia McKinney. A similar proposal, sponsored by Senator Mark Hatfield (bill S.326), had not yet been introduced in the Senate as of early November 1995. The Hatfield/McKinney proposal is part of an international campaign by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to rein in the arms trade. In May 1995, a coalition of European NGOs launched an appeal for the European Union to adopt a stricter code of conduct on the sale of arms and establish an effective E.U. arms export control regime. In September, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias Sánchez announced that a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners was planning to introduce a new proposal, aimed at establishing a code of conduct to govern the international arms trade, at the U.N.