Guns Week asked this week, if the outcome of the U.S. Presidential elections could have repercussions on the European fight against senseless gun control measures and if the victory of the anti-gunners in the U.S. could provide new strength to the anti-gunners in Europe.
The US plays a big role at the UN, NATO and therefore also in the EU. From New York come the ones that wrote the « Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition« , supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. That startet in 2000 and resulted in the changes to the firearms directive in 2008 in Brussels. From New York (UN) comes also the « Action Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons » that is still used as an excuse to ban things.
Since 2010 I am following the worldwide Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and what is happening in Yemen. The ATT has a big impact on the trade and ownership of civilian firearms and I was curious what would be its impact to Yemen, a very poor country with the most civilian firearms after the US, followed by Switzerland.
Is smuggling of heavy arms to war zones like Yeman topic of the ATT?
You would have expected that blocking transfers of heavy arms to war zones would be high on the agenda. But it was not!
Criticism by civil society
Civil society was troubled by the silence on civilian casualties in Yemen, as some states deftly sidestepped direct confrontation over issues of ATT implementation and compliance. Article 17.4.a of the ATT text asks that the conference of states parties “review the implementation of the Treaty.” However, big exporting states focused their plenary statements away from the soundness of their risk assessment processes and onto more nebulous issues such as universalisation, tacitly creating an illusion of their incontrovertible commitment to the Treaty.
During the plenaries, the disconnect between promise and practice was captured neatly in the statements made by civil society representatives versus state delegates. If nothing else, we have clarity on what the issues are when it comes to states in dialogue with each other, and must continue to demand that states parties use ATT meetings to challenge and condemn those transfers that violate the Treaty.
Criticism by NRA
Historically, UN meetings open with flowery remarks welcoming States Parties and others in attendance to the beginning of a week of discussions. This year that was not the case. The “good will message” everyone expected was instead an all-out attack on the U.S.
Rather than fulfill her obligation of providing a message of good will, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs H.E. Claudia Ruiz Massieu [..] boldly proclaimed that in America “it is easier to acquire a firearm than a liter of milk or a box of cereal.” Massieu continued to capitalize on her moment in the spotlight by praising “the tenacious and sincere efforts of President Barrack Obama to establish administrative measures to strengthen controls on the possession and sale of weapons” and calling on the U.S. Congress to “ban the sale of assault weapons.”
Despite countless papers and legal studies from ATT proponents arguing that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are causing human suffering in Yemen (a violation of the ATT), the ATT has done nothing to address the issue.
Accordingly, with no ability to impact big defense transactions, proponents have come to realize that the civilian small arms market is the only area that the ATT can impact. One need only sit through a few minutes of any ATT meeting to recognize that, despite the ATT covering seven other categories of conventional arms, the only type ever mentioned is SALW (small arms and light weapons).
What is the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)?
Aim and content
The ATT is an attempt to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons for the purpose of contributing to international and regional peace; reducing human suffering; and promoting co-operation, transparency, and responsible action by and among states.
Conventional weapons are sea and land mines, bombs, shells, rockets, missiles, cluster munitions, light weapons and small arms.
Since the late 1990s civil society actors voiced their concerns about the unregulated nature of the global arms trade and its impact on human security. Together with the UN they invented 2001 the « Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects » (PoA). ATT and PoA are based on the hypothesis that the illicit trade in small arms is a large and serious problem requiring global action through the UN.
A key measure calls on countries to block transfers of conventional weapons believed to be used for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, especially when it comes to sending arms to war zones like Yemen and South Sudan.
Criticism comes from groups concerned about national sovereignty or individual rights to armed defense. The most important group is the WFSA and NRA who state that civilian small arms should be excluded. They fear the treaty will be misused to impose domestic gun regulations which have no impact on genocide, war crimes or human suffering.
Status of ratifications and signatures
The Arms Trade Treaty has been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2013. 130 countries signed (S) the treaty — 84 states have ratified (R) or acceded to the ATT.
From the 23 medium small arms producers all European countries have ratified to the ATT, but Egypt, India, Pakistan and Taiwan did not even sign it: Austria (R), Belgium (R), Brazil (S), Bulgaria (R), Czech Republic (R), Egypt, France (R), Germany (R), Hungary (R), India, Israel (S), Italy (R), Pakistan, Poland (R), Romania (R), Singapore (S), South Africa (R), South Korea (S), Spain (R), Switzerland (R), Taiwan, Turkey (S) and United Kingdom (R).
From the world’s top 10 arms importers only Australia has ratified to the ATT; seven countries, including Saudi-Arabia an Oman, did not even sign it: India, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey (S), China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates (S), Australia (R) and Oman.
Impact of ATT
Every second year a lot of government envoys from about 100 countries are meeting for a weeklong conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. They talk about rules, controls, reporting on arms transfers and transparency.
Everybody would assume that the ATT would block arms exports to countries which did not sign the treaty. Instead in 2015 sales and licences for Saudi-Arabia totalled more than US$25bn and included bombs, rockets and missiles – from US, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. All countries which ratified or signed the treaty.
Role of UN – follow the money
The 193 nations in the UN do not defend human rights but follow their own agendas. The richer countries use their wealth, the poorer countries use their great numbers. It is hypocrisis when U.N. elects Saudi Arabia to behead of Human Rights Council panel (UNHRC) and when Iran is elected to U.N. Women Executive Board.
The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian and nonmilitary targets in Yemen for more than a year. « United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan and Syria if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the blacklist of armies and guerrilla groups that violated human rights in war. » Same happened for Israel and Hamas, when Israeli and American diplomats lobbied intensely against the listing.
Role of US – follow the money
Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.
The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.
The State Department formally approved these arms sales even as many of the deals enhanced the military power of countries ruled by authoritarian regimes whose human rights abuses had been criticized by the department. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar all donated to the Clinton Foundation and also gained State Department clearance to buy caches of American-made weapons even as the department singled them out for a range of alleged ills, from corruption to restrictions on civil liberties to violent crackdowns against political opponents.
US continues selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. These bombs were banned by a treaty signed by 119 countries, though a few countries, including the U.S., China and Russia, have not signed the treaty.
On Aug. 8 2016, the U.S. State Department announced to Congress that it had approved a $1.15 billion sale of up to 153 tanks, hundreds of machine guns and more to the kingdom – on top of the approximately $110 billion in arms deals the Obama administration has done in the past
Role of EU – follow the money
Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”
The government of UK is facing a court case arguing that it should ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In its written answer published on Thursday, the Foreign Office said written answers in February 2016 had stated: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition.” The correction said these should have stated: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.” He said: “Having spent all year claiming to have made assessments on whether Saudi Arabia is breaking international humanitarian law in Yemen, we now see that no such assessment has been made, and that MPs have been misled on this issue.
“This sordid affair tarnishes Britain’s standing in the world. It’s time for full transparency on this issue. The government must immediately open an independent investigation on violation of humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia and their allies in Yemen, and in the meantime they must suspend all arms contracts to a country which is accused of using British weapons to target innocent and desperate civilians.”
The Control Arms Coalition said Britain, France and the United States were flouting the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which bans exports of conventional weapons that fuel human rights violations or war crimes. France authorized arms licenses worth $18 billion to Saudi Arabia last year, followed by the United States at $5.9 billion and Britain’s $4 billion, the group said in its latest study.
Campaigners said arms exports also drove fighting in South Sudan last month that killed hundreds, prompting fears of a return to civil war. « We think that governments of other countries have fueled this violence by repeatedly authorizing arms transfers to South Sudan, » said Geoffrey Duke, head of South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms. He named China, Ukraine and South Africa as the main suppliers to the Juba government.
I started my research before the uprising of the Arab Spring and found interesting informations at CARPO (Bonn-Germany). President Marie-Christine Heinze holds a master in Peace and Security Studies, works together with the University of Sanaa (Yemen) and focuses among other topics on civil-military relations and security studies.
Her 2010 report « On ‘Gun Culture’ and ‘Civil Statehood’ in Yemen » shows that small arms are not always an « instrument of violence », but may serve as protection « in a country in which the state is either not willing or not able to provide security to all its citizens. » This was the first time I read a report by a peace researcher which did not blame firearms in « all its aspects », but looked on both sides of gun ownership.
Civilian gunownership in Yemen
Yemen was listed as the country which had the most civilian arms after the US, followed by the Switzerland. But during the « Arab Spring » the people of Yemen went unarmed to their demonstrations on the street. If you fight for democratical goals you cannot misuse guns for your goals. During the next years their civilian small arms, mostly ordinary hunting rifles or repeating rifles from the WWII, protected them against warlords, rebels and criminals when the government was not able to do so anymore.
A key goal of the protesters who took to the streets during the uprising that resulted in longtime president Saleh’s ouster was a state with a strong rule of law that could protect its citizens. Two years later, Yemenis say that more than ever, they’ve been forced to take such matters into their own hands.
“In early 2011, a cousin of mine advised me to carry a weapon, and I haven’t left the house without my pistol or my rifle since,” says Haykel Bafana, a Sanaa-based lawyer. “I’ve never shot anyone with either, and hopefully never will. Still, I think they’ve played a key role in my protecting me – even on the symbolic level alone. In the current environment, I’d be foolish to leave it up to the government to guarantee the safety of myself and my family.”
This situation changed dramatically when US, EU and the islamic neighbours meddled in and armed their allies. The former presidents Saleh (backed by Houthis and Iran) and Hadi (set up a government-in-exile in Riyadh – Saudi Arabia) fuel this crisis as well as a lot of other groups, parties and alliances and Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile Yemen is flooded with heavy arms and light weapons
Before the 2011 uprising Saudi Arabia dominated Yemen through its financial backing of a network of tribal and political parties and leaders for decades. Their influence decreased when Qatar and Iran could install their own networks. Whilst Qatar is using its influence more for mediation efforts, Iran supported the Houthis with training and financial and political support by its regional ally, Hezbollah. Some analysts to go as far as to characterize the conflict in Yemen as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi-led coalition: bombing campaign, a ground, sea and air blockade and arming of Yemeni groups
The situation reached a turning point when the Houthi Movement used the Yemeni Air Force to bomb the Presidential Palace in Aden on 19th March 2015. President Hadi then fled to Saudi Arabia, where he has set up a government-in-exile in Riyadh. One week later the Saudi-led coalition launched “Operation Decisive Storm” – entailing a widespread bombing campaign, a ground, sea and air blockade of Yemen, and the arming of Yemeni groups opposed to the Houthis – with the declared intent of forcing a Houthi retreat and reinstating Hadi in office.
US: loses control of $500 million in weapons, equipment given to Yemen
Washington has supplied more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen since 2007 under an array of Defense Department and State Department programs. With Yemen in turmoil and its government splintering, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States.
Iran: smuggles small, light and heavy weapons to Yemen
General Ahmed Saif was capable in the past few days to seize a big quantity of heavy and medium-sized weapons and millions of ammunition, for several kinds of artillery. Saif said the weapons were found in boats near the shores of Bab el-Mandeb, ready to be carried elsewhere.
US Navy seized Friday in the Arabian Sea 21 fifty-caliber machineguns, 200 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, and a staggering 1,500 AK-47s.
The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin stopped a boat Feb. 27 that was carrying nearly 2,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100 RPG launchers, 49 PKM machine guns, 39 PKM machine gun barrels and 20 60mm mortar tubes. And the French Navy destroyer FS Provence intercepted a cargo on March 20 that included about 2,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 64 Dragunov sniper rifles, nine anti-tank missiles and other gear, the US Navy said.
Instead of blocking arms exports of tanks, rockets, grenades and cluster mines to dubious countries, the ATT concentrates on blaming small civilian arms as tool of mass destructions and urges countries to disarm their citizens.
All invented control tools get only implemented for civilian firearms, but have no impact at all on exports of conventional weapons.
If you look to the civilian gun trade you can see that 20% of the Western world are importing and exporting 80% of the civilian arms with great transparency.
97% of the exports of long guns and 99% of short guns were with authorisations in 2006.
Most of the exports were imported by countries of the Western world which also export firearms. So this trade was to and fro instead of flooding a country with firearms (like Saudi-Arabia) without own gun industry.