Bullet trade out of control, fuelling conflict and human rights abuses

Published: 12 June 2006

New report on global bullet trade includes research showing new ammunition supplies widely available on Baghdad black market

Up to 14 billion bullets are manufactured globally every year and there is no reliable data on how billions of those bullets are used or to whom they may be sold, according to a new report on the global ammunition trade released today by aid agency, Oxfam International.

The report, ‘Ammunition: the fuel of conflict’ shows that several big ammunition producers including China, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel provide no data at all on their ammunition exports, apart from shotgun cartridges.

Every year, lax controls mean millions of bullets end up in war zones and fall into the hands of human rights abusers. The report details how illicit ammunition has flooded into conflict-ridden countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the last five years.

At least 76 countries manufacture ammunition, and the number is increasing as more countries acquire bullet-making equipment. Kenya and Turkey have both become producers in the last ten years. Globally, 33 million bullets are produced every day.

“Our research shows that new ammunition is widely available on Baghdad’s black market. There are two likely explanations for this: either it was smuggled in from neighboring countries or it has leaked from coalition or Iraqi forces’ supplies. In either case, weak controls mean lives lost on the streets of Baghdad,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

The report includes research conducted in May 2006 into the Baghdad black market. Researchers found:

  • New, high-quality ammunition is widely available in Baghdad, in contrast to the early days of the conflict when ammunition is believed to have largely come from old Iraqi stockpiles.

  • Bullets manufactured between 1999 and 2004 in factories in Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania and Russia were found on sale in Baghdad.

  • New ammunition stocks are either being smuggled into Iraq from neighboring countries or leaking from the vast supplies imported by coalition forces to equip the new Iraqi security forces. It is likely both are happening.

  • The average cost of an AK-47 bullet on the black market is US 30 cents. As most gun violence victims are killed by between four and 12 bullets, on average the price of taking away a human life in Baghdad is currently US $2.40.

The report also contains information on the vast stockpiles of old ammunition in Eastern Europe, finding that:

  • Ukraine alone is estimated to have about 2.5 million tons of ammunition stocks including several hundred million rounds of small arms ammunition.

  • Unscrupulous brokers, who buy these bullets and sell them to conflict zones, are making huge profits. In one case, a broker’s profit margin was over 500 per cent.

  • Bullets last at least 20 years, more if properly stored.

Ammunition plays a vital role in fuelling armed conflict, according to the report. In the Central African Republic, fighters have been known to throw away weapons because they could not buy the right bullets for them. However, bullets are frequently left out of arms regulations.

“If you’re not convinced about the devastating power a shipment of ammunition can have, think of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, during the civil war in 2003. In late June 2003, forces ran out of bullets and had to retreat. But once a new shipment arrived, they attacked again, ferociously, killing many innocent people. At the UN world conference on the small arms trade, governments must agree new global principles to govern both the small arms and the ammunition trade,” added Hobbs.

Bullet casings are often left at the scene of crimes and massacres. The report argues that if casings were properly marked, it would greatly increase the likelihood of bringing human rights abusers and criminals to justice. However, currently markings only enable the manufacturer to be identified.

The UN conference on the small arms trade begins in New York on 26 June 2006.

Contact Information

For more details, or to request a copy of the report, contact:
Clare Rudebeck in the Oxfam press office at +44 (0) 1865 47 2530 or +44 (0) 7769 887 139.