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Conflicts in central Africa, in the Horn of Africa, and in other areas of the world continue to be fueled by a steady supply of weapons from new allies or partners of NATO and former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact. Although these countries are not the only weapons suppliers to war-ravaged regions, they have played aprominent role in stoking the fires of violent conflict and encouraging human rights abuses. Moreover, in field investigations in 1994-1999, Human Rights Watch found that weapons from eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union were, at times, furnished in violation of international or regional arms embargoes.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the downsizing of military forces in former Warsaw Pact countries unleashed a cascade of weapons, particularly small arms.1 But the human rights record of the recipients of these arms was never taken into consideration. In their quest for hard currency, market shares, and influence sellers—be they governments or private actors—have not been fastidious about the human rights credentials of buyers. In turn, buyers have accepted weaponry that was hardly state of the art, but could do the job and was cheap and plentiful.

The signs of this trend became visible especially after the 1990 treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), which set weaponry limits for the signatory countries’ arsenals. The intent of the treaty was to reduce the threat of violent confrontation in central Europe. One of its effects was to exacerbate conflict elsewhere through the supply of excess weapons. At the time the treaty entered into force in 1992, states parties were able to set aside any equipment they had declared as awaiting export and this was not counted toward their initial reduction obligations.2

Between 1992 and 1995, Germany, for example, disposed of 500 tanks, 1,400 armored combat vehicles, and 400 artillery pieces inherited from the former East Germany. One of the buyers was Turkey, which has been responsible for persistent patterns of gross abuses, including forced displacement and the destruction of villages in the Kurdish region. Others have also taken advantage of the market niche for excess weapons kept wide open by a seemingly insatiable demand. In July 1995, Ukranian arms were reportedly supplied to the Rwandan exile forces based in eastern Zaire. This shipment was in violation of the May 1994 U.N. arms embargo.3 Russia has been a reliable arms supplier to Burundian forces, targeted by a regional arms embargo in August 1996.4 Poland reportedly blocked a shipment of fifty T-55 tanks to Sudan only after U.S. protests.5 Bulgaria calculated that destroying its excess tanks and selling them for scrap could fetch a meager profit of just U.S.$2,000 for each. Selling them, however, would bring U.S.$30,000 for each into the cash-strapped Bulgarian treasury. InDecember 1998, Bulgaria proceeded to sell 140 surplus tanks to Ethiopia and Uganda, which are both involved in conflicts with their neighbors.6

A Wake-Up Call to NATO

A link between the cascade of weapons from former Warsaw Pact countries and areas of violent conflict and human rights violations, however, was never acknowledged by the relevant international and governmental bodies. To be sure, no alarm bell has sounded at NATO headquarters or in the halls of the E.U., despite the fact that both institutions have actively engaged their new eastern European and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) partners in matters of security and political cooperation.7 As Human Rights Watch learned in May 1998, NATO, in particular, seemed oblivious to one of the likely consequences of the NATO Alliance's enlargement eastwards, that is, an acceleration of weapons sales by former Warsaw Pact countries eager to dispose of their obsolete arsenals and, in the process, raise the cash needed to acquire arms that would meet NATO operational standards.8 Asked by Human Rights Watch whether this problem, and in particular small arms proliferation, had ever figured in NATO's discussions, an Alliance official responded: "Not since I have been here, that is, eighteen years, and mine is one of the longest institutional memories."9

In such a vacuum of initiative, neither the responsible and accountable disposal of excess weapons, or the harmonization of arms export controls to the highest possible standards were made a condition for new members' accession to the Alliance.10 This oversight might be due, in part, to what an analyst has defined as a "continuing disconnect at NATO headquarters, and in fact in many countries, between the civilian authorities responsible formilitary cooperation and military authorities responsible for setting weapons requirements."11 While both the E.U. and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have established criteria for responsible arms transfers, these have found no resonance within NATO’s military echelons.12 Negligence and a lack of foresight may have also played a role in preventing the Alliance from being in step with "sister" organizations.

Letter to Javier Solana

NATO bears an important responsibility to prevent Alliance members and their eastern European and central Asian PfP partners from supplying weapons to forces responsible for abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. As the Alliance defines its mission for the 21st century and prepares to undertake more peacekeeping operations, it is also in its self-interest to ensure that abusive forces do not receive weapons which may one day imperil both the civilian population under NATO’s protection and the peacekeepers themselves. In addition, as more former Warsaw Pact countries line up to join the NATO club, the Alliance is uniquely positioned to draft ground rules for allies and partners alike, providing for maximum restraint in excess weapons transfers. Arguably, no other international organization possesses equal clout and expertise.

For these reasons, Human Rights Watch wrote NATO Secretary General Javier Solana on April 27, 1998 to ask whether NATO had compiled a full inventory of allies' and perspective members' surplus weapons stocks, put in place safekeeping, accounting, and control procedures for current and projected weapons stockpiles, taken steps to encourage harmonization of export controls, and developed a program to control illicit transfers of light weapons in the context of its peacekeeping operations. (See Appendix)13 The secretary general responded on June 15, 1998 by stating that:

· NATO had not conducted an inventory of excess weapons.

· Individual allies were responsible on a national basis for safekeeping,

accounting, and control of their own weapons.

· NATO does not set arms export policies for its member states.

· NATO experience in controlling light weapons in peacekeeping operations

was limited, and enforcement of controls difficult.14

This response was disappointing. However, Human Rights Watch learned during two visits to NATO headquarters in May and October 1998 that our inquiries helped set in motion a long-overdue debate.15

Governments Get Mail

In December 1998, Human Rights Watch took on one of Secretary General Solana's suggestions and wrote prospective NATO members and partners with the goal of ascertaining these governments' policies on armsexport and weapons safekeeping, and with a view to identifying possible common denominators among them, as well as grey areas which might be exploited for arms trafficking.

As of April 1999, eight governments had responded to Human Rights Watch: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Austria, the Czech Republic, Uzbekistan, and Poland.16 The eight governments provided detailed responses on topics of Human Rights Watch’s concern and specifically on:

· Norms forbidding arms transfers to human rights violators:
Seven of these governments stated that they adhere to the principles of the E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, while Uzbekistan pledged to incorporate the code into its domestic legislation once the June 1996 Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation with the E.U. is ratified.17

· Type of export controls:
All respondents asserted that they had established strict legislation and regulations with departmental or interdepartmental review for licensing arms exports and penalties for violators. Only Austria claimed that illegal traffickers had actually faced criminal proceedings. Six governments specified that end-user certificates for the export of weapons were required for every transaction.18 Austria and Poland did not furnish details on their end-user system.

· Disposal of excess weapons:
Latvia and the Czech Republic stated they possess no excess weapons.19 Romania specified that, as a result of military modernization, “available arms and related materials are recycled by the defense industry” or exported according to existing control provisions. Austria wrote it was in the process of “evaluating the current regime.” Poland stated that in 1998: “The Government of the Republic of Poland approved a programme for integration of Poland’s Armed Forces with NATO.” The modernization process, Poland clarified in its letter to Human Rights Watch, will continue until the year 2010 and in this period “the obsolete, used up military equipment and arms will be successively withdrawn from service. Redundant arms and equipment could be directed to contractors respecting international rules of trade in arms.”

In the preparation of its report “Money Talks: Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers,” Human Rights Watch also contacted the government of Bulgaria, which in response encouraged Human Rights Watch to visit that country. During the course of its research and in interviews with government officials in Sofia we found that, despite the government’s pledge to comply with arms trade control standards, Bulgaria’s arms business is stillcharacterized by weak policy guidelines and a lack of accountability. Bulgaria has also so far failed to introduce human rights considerations into its arms trade law, its adherence to the E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports notwithstanding. In addition, several government officials with responsibility over arms trade controls continue to serve on the board of state arms trading companies in a blatant conflict of interest, while widespread corruption and lax enforcement mechanisms persist.20

The release of the report in Sofia on April 1, 1999 elicited a pointed rejection from the government of Human Rights Watch’s findings. The government maintained it applies one of the strictest possible control regimes over its arms trade, but it failed to offer any specific rebuttal of Human Rights Watch’s findings.21

NATO’s EAPC Ambassadors Convene

Research and field investigations have consistently highlighted the widespread use of small arms and light weapons by abusive forces. Most serious human rights abuses in post-cold war conflicts, including genocide, have been committed with such weapons. Nor have peacekeepers been immune to the lethal power of these arms. Yet tackling small arms proliferation has not been an Alliance priority.

No mention of small arms and light weapons appeared in the Alliance’s parlance regarding its new security concept. Nor was it to be found in the report on the challenges awaiting NATO by U.S. Senator William V. Roth, who is also the president of the North Atlantic Assembly.22 The report acknowledged the risks posed by the “negative dynamics” of the new security environment, including “long-standing ethnic animosities,” but made no reference to the proliferation of those arms that are currently the weapons of choice in the vast majority of today’s armed conflicts and are used to undermine the security, human rights, and the environment of millions of civilians.

This omission is dangerous. Human Rights Watch has, therefore, urged NATO allies and partners to review past practice and take on the matter of small arms and light weapons. In the U.S. this position was echoed in calls by Representative Cynthia McKinney and Senator Diane Feinstein addressed to President Clinton and to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, respectively, to include small arms proliferation on NATO’s agenda.23 The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG), a coalition of U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, alsoexhorted the Clinton administration to tackle problems related with security of excess weapons stockpiles of NATO allies and partners.24

These actions bore fruit in December 1998 when NATO’s EAPC announced a pledge to include measures pertaining to small arms and light weapons in its Action Plan for 1998-2000, marking the first time that small arms proliferation appeared on NATO’s radar screen. When the representatives of the EAPC countries met in Brussels on March 12, 1999 to discuss small arms proliferation, Canada, with help from the U.S. and Norway, set the meeting agenda. The two-hour discussion wrapped up with agreement to create a working group on small arms along the lines of the EAPC's landmines working group.

We were pleased to learn that some of the points debated during the EAPC meeting closely reflect concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch in our correspondence and discussions with NATO governments. According to a NATO official who attended the March EAPC meeting, for example, security of surplus weapons stockpiles will be made a priority of the EAPC small arms working group.25 "Canada, the U.S., and Norway, among others, are fully supportive of the idea and have proposed concrete actions aimed at identifying problematic stockpiles and at improving their security through training programs," this official told Human Rights Watch. Other officials, however, pointed out that such steps will be hard to negotiate and implement. Belarus, for example, reportedly stressed that the weapons hemorrhage is closely interlinked with crime, while the Ukrainian delegation—also representing Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova at the Brussels meeting—reminded EAPC members that large chunks of CIS territories escape the control of central governments.26

NATO officials have also expressed pessimism that consensus can be reached soon on confidence-building and transparency measures such as full disclosure of stockpiles and production inventories. France and some CIS republics have allegedly been vociferous in expressing their opposition to increased transparency. "I think that NATO Secretary General Javier Solana set the tone on this topic when he answered Human Rights Watch by saying that responsibility of weapons stockpiles does not rest with NATO, but with individual countries. This is the position that some governments are most comfortable with," a NATO official told Human Rights Watch. He also identified as a problematic area the harmonization of export controls among allies and partners.27

A recurrent theme of presentations at the EAPC meeting centered around peacekeeping operations which NATO is expected to undertake in the future. Some EAPC countries pledged to study ways to demobilize and disarm combatants, and to dispose of light weapons during peacekeeping operations. According to officials, the working group on small arms may take on this task as one of its priorities.28

In the light of these developments, Human Rights Watch recommends that NATO allies and partners undertake the following actions:

1 Small arms and light weapons are designed for use by one or only a few people (as opposed to teams or units) and are either hand-carried or transported on nonspecialized vehicles. Included are grenades, pistols, revolvers, rifles, automatic weapons, machine guns, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, landmines, and mortars up to 80mm (and occasionally mortars up to 120mm). Their size, mobility, and portability distinguishes these weapons from conventional weapons, such as tanks, ships, aircraft and artillery, and weapons of mass destruction. 2 The treaty required signatory countries to destroy excess stocks or, alternatively, to dispose of them by exceptional means, such as conversion to non-military use and use for target practice. Some heavy equipment in excess of treaty limits was indeed destroyed. Dorns Crawford, “Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): A Review and Update of Key Treaty Elements,” U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, January 1999. 3 Human Rights Watch interview with Kenyan and expatriate airport personnel, Nairobi, February 27 and August 19, 1996, and a series of telephone interviews with an arms trader involved in the deal, Kampala, September 18 and 19, 1996 and by phone, Prague, December 1995-January 1996. 4 Russia provided Burundi with ammunition, mortars, and armored vehicles. Human Rights Watch interviews with a FRODEBU representative to the Arusha talks, Nairobi, August 14, 1996; with Burundian military officers, Bujumbura, March 5 and 18, 1996; and with a pilot and cargo industry personnel, Kampala, September 18, 1996. 5 “Sudan: Global Trade, Local Impact: Arms Transfers to All Sides in the Civil War in Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, August 1998, vol. 10, no. 4(A), p. 33. The U.S. considers Sudan a “pariah” state that supports “terrorism.” Since March 1994, Sudan has been under a European Union (E.U.) arms embargo. 6 "Bulgaria: Money Talks: Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, April 1999, vol. 11, no. 4(D), pp. 17 and 21.

7 At a summit meeting in Brussels in 1994, NATO introduced Partnership for Peace (PfP), an initiative described as: “the means to expand and intensify political and military cooperation throughout Europe, increase stability, diminish threats to peace, and build strengthened relationships by promoting the spirit of practical cooperation and commitment to democratic principles that underpin the Alliance,” in: “The Enhanced Partnership for Peace Programme (PfP), NATO Fact Sheet, no. 9, available via the internet at PfP includes twenty-seven members: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic (now a NATO member), Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary (now a NATO member), Kazakhstan, the Kyrghyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland (now a NATO member), Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The NATO’s EAPC was created on May 30, 1997 with the intent of providing “ the overarching framework for political and security-related consultations and enhanced cooperation under PfP.” In NATO’s view, “The expanded political dimension of consultations and cooperation which EAPC offers, allows Partners, if they wish, to develop a direct political relationship with the Alliance. In addition, the EAPC provides the framework for giving Partner countries increased decision-making opportunities relating to activities in which they participate.” In “The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council,” NATO Fact Sheet, no. 19, available via the internet at The sixteen NATO allies, the three new members of the Alliance, and the members of PfP—plus Tajikistan—compose the EAPC. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are associated countries of the E.U. On August 3, 1998, these countries adhered to the June 1998 E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and on March 15, 1999 to the December 1999 E.U. Joint Action on Small Arms. Both the code of conduct and the joint action contain measures by which states are to exercise self-restraint on arms transfers. Council of the European Union General Secretariat, Press Release, Brussels, August 3, 1998, 10754/98 (Presse 272), P.85/98, and CFSP Presidency Statements, Brussels, March 15, 1999, nr. 6548/99 (Presse 73), CFSP:26/99.

8 Human Rights Watch interviews with NATO officials, Brussels, May 18 and 19, 1998.

9 Human Rights Watch interview with a NATO official, Brussels, May 18, 1998.

10 The NATO membership documents were presented to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland on March 12, 1999 during a ceremony held at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. “Yesterday’s Enemies Become Today’s Allies,” Associated Press, Brussels, March 11, 1999.

11 Brooks Tigner, “Alliance Panel Wants Weapons Czar,” Defense News, July 6-12, 1998.

12 These criteria are contained in the June 1998 E.U. Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and in the November 1993 OSCE Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers.

13 Human Rights Watch correspondence, April 27, 1998.

14 Letter from NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to Human Rights Watch, June 15, 1998.

15 Human Rights Watch interviews with NATO officials, Brussels, May 18 and 19, 1998, and October 8, 1998.

16 Letters from: the International Organization Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Lithuania, December 15, 1998; Olari Taal, Minister of Internal Affairs, Republic of Estonia, February 2, 1999; Marius Petrescu, President, Secretary of State, National Agency for the Control of Strategic Exports and Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Government of Romania (undated); René Pollitzer (Ambassador), Federal Chancellery, Office of the Federal Chancellor, Austria, February 16, 1999; Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister of the Government of the Czech Republic, February 23, 1999; Sadiq Safaev, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Washington, D.C., March 22, 1999; Darius Klimek, Minister of Economy, Republic of Poland, February 16, 1999 (delivered by hand on April 9, 1999).

17 The seventh, Austria, is already a member of the E.U.

18 An end-user certificate is the written assurance from the importing parties that the goods are for their own use and will not be reexported without prior authorization.

19 The Czech Republic clarified that if excess weapons are freed up by future modernization or obsolescence, “potential surplus will be sold in a direct way.” In the event of sales abroad, the letter specified, exports will be submitted to the same “double-step controls” that apply to all arms transfers.

20 Human Rights Watch, “Money Talks”; and Human Rights Watch interviews with Bulgarian government officials, Sofia, February 3-9, 1999.

21 “Bulgaria rejects accusation it exports arms to ‘human rights abusers’,” BTA News Agency, Sofia, April 1, 1999, in BBC Worldwide Monitoring, document FTS1999040200113, April 2, 1999.

22 The North Atlantic Assembly is described as “NATO’s link to the representative bodies of member states. Although not formally part of NATO, the Assembly since the mid-1950s has provided common ground on which European and Canadian parliamentarians and Members of the U.S. Congress could consider and debate issues affecting the transatlantic Alliance.” Senator William V. Roth, Jr., President, North Atlantic Assembly, NATO in the 21st Century (Brussels: North Atlantic Assembly, September 1998).

23 Letter from Representative Cynthia McKinney to President Clinton, June 24, 1998; and letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, December 2, 1998. President Clinton, in his response, did not dwell on the topic of small arms and light weapons, referring exclusively to restraint in the transfer of major conventional systems, and to responsible disposal of surplus weapons. Letter from President Clinton to Representative Cynthia McKinney, July 28, 1998. The office of the secretary of state reiterated Albright’s commitment to policies aimed at stemming the illicit trafficking in small arms and identified NATO’s EAPC as the appropriate forum to tackle security of stockpiles and observance of international arms embargoes. Letter from the office of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Senator Dianne Feinstein, March 3, 1999.

24 On September 22, 1998, SAWG presented the Clinton administration with ten policy points related to small arms proliferation. Regular meetings between representatives from SAWG and an interagency group of U.S. officials ensued.

25 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a NATO official, March 15, 1999.

26 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with NATO officials, March 15, 1999.

27 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a NATO official, March 15, 1999.

28 Ibid.

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