Arms traffickers enjoy impunity as all UN arms embargoes in last decade ‘systematically violated’

Published: 14 March 2006

Report from the Control Arms Campaign: Oxfam International, Amnesty International and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

UN arms embargoes are systematically violated and must be urgently strengthened if they are to stop weapons fuelling human rights abuses, according to a report being presented to the UN Security Council today (Thursday).

According to the Control Arms Campaign every one of the 13 UN arms embargoes imposed in the last decade has been repeatedly violated.

And despite hundreds of embargo breakers being named in UN reports, only a handful have been successfully prosecuted.

“Over the past ten years systematic violations of United Nations arms embargoes have met with almost no successful prosecutions. Unscrupulous arms dealers continue to get away with grave human rights abuses and make a mockery of the UN Security Council’s efforts," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

Control Arms campaigners will appeal today to the UN Security Council for states to strengthen the enforcement of UN embargoes. They will argue for a raft of new measures, including the urgent agreement of an International Arms Trade Treaty.

This Treaty would enable governments to act in unison to strictly control conventional arms transfers, thereby creating the conditions for UN arms embargoes to be properly respected. Since the Campaign began in October 2003, over 45 countries have stated their support for such a treaty.

According to the report:

  • UN investigative teams tasked with monitoring the embargoes are given woefully inadequate resources and time.

  • Despite UN mandatory arms embargoes being legally binding under international law, many states have not even made violating an embargo a criminal offence.

  • Arms export, import and freight documents are routinely faked and state officials often cover up arms transfers.

  • UN peacekeepers are sometimes not trained to adequately record markings on weapons, while UN missions do not have adequate means to monitor ports of entry in embargoed zones.

“Illegal arms dealers are getting away with murder on a daily basis. Embargoes must be strengthened but even then they will remain a blunt instrument. They are often imposed by the UN Security Council on the basis of politics rather than principles and are usually deployed too late to save lives. The world urgently needs an Arms Trade Treaty if we’re to stop weapons getting into the wrong hands,” said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s Director.

According to campaigners, between 1990 and 2001 only 8 of 57 conflicts had UN arms embargoes imposed. Even when UN embargoes were agreed, it was generally only once a conflict had begun. An Arms Trade Treaty would provide a broader framework to prevent weapons being sold before wars start or human rights abuses reach their peak. This would also enable tougher enforcement of UN embargoes according to common standards based on international law.

Today, Control Arms campaigners from around the world will also be marking 100 days to go until the UN world conference on small arms in June. During the next 100 days, campaigners in 110 countries will be holding marches, concerts and stunts to put pressure on their leaders to support an Arms Trade Treaty.

“In the 100 days until the UN world conference on small arms starts, an estimated 100,000 people will be killed with arms and many more will be injured and suffer severely in other ways from armed violence. Today, people from Kenya to Canada to Chile will be calling on their leaders to demand global controls to stop weapons falling into the wrong hands,” said Rebecca Peters, Director of the International Action Network on Small Arms.

Over 800,000 people in 160 countries have already given their photographs to the Million Faces Petition, which is the world’s largest photo petition, calling on leaders to back stricter controls on the arms trade. It will be delivered at the June conference, representing the million people who have been killed by arms since the last UN conference on small arms in 2001.

Contact Information

For more information or to request a copy report, please contact:
Oxfam: Clare Rudebeck on +44 1865 47 2530 or +44 7769 887 139.
Amnesty: James Dyson on + 44 (0) 207 413 5831 or +44 (0) 7795628367
IANSA: Anthea Lawson: +44 (0)20 7065 0875 +44 (0)7900 242 869