Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - The Arms Project

The Human Rights Watch Arms Project monitored and sought to prevent the transfer of weapons and the provision of military assistance and training to governments or armed groups that committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or the laws of war. A corollary of this was to promote freedom of expression and freedom of information about arms and arms transfers worldwide. In addition, the Arms Project sought to eliminate weapons which as a class were, or should have been, prohibited by the laws of war, without consideration of the human rights record of the country or group possessing them. These were weapons that are by their very nature indiscriminate or cause superfluous injury.

The Arms Project was established in 1992 amidst the myriad changes that were triggered by the end of the Cold War. As, throughout the world, the logic of conflict lost its East-West overlay, the arms trade that fueled conflicts similarly shed its overarching ideological motivations, replacing them, with the exception of a few conflicts in which the perceived national interests of the suppliers still played a significant role, with the profit motive. Decisions about arms sales were increasingly based less on the geostrategic importance of the buyer than on the perceived need to shore up flagging weapons industries at home. The result was an unbridled proliferation of weapons in areas of ethnic and territorial conflict.

While the overall trade in conventional weapons declined, the trade in small arms and light weapons appeared to be growing, and a fresh generation of weapons was being developed under secret budgets. Moreover, new control mechanisms, like the U.N. Arms Register and international arms embargoes against specific countries, were few, and there was little effective enforcement. And contrary to early expectations raised by the end of the Cold War, weapons of mass destruction have not been abolished, and the threat of proliferation, catastrophic accident or precipitate use continued.

The new order that emerged following the collapse of the Berlin Wall required a new theory for containing conflict and building peace. The construction of solutions based on ideological interests gave way to a problem-solving approach to local and international conflict. Institutions like the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) projected themselves, not always successfully, as neutral forces that police conflicts, promote reconciliation through negotiation, disarm soldiers and insurgents alike, and monitor elections around the world. This new role required a detailed knowledge of local conditions and strong investigative capabilities, qualifications that the supranational bodies rarely possessed. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were primed to fill the vacuum, monitoring post-conflict arrangements, putting pressure on authorities to comply with both long-standing and newly accepted international standards and conventions, and serving as early-warning beacons when things go wrong. Within this context, the Arms Project pursued five separate but related approaches that formed the underpinnings of our perception of what the new theory of change required from us as a human rights organization.

To act as a whistle-blower: One of the Arms Project's tasks was to reveal the reprehensible activities that governments and other armed forces tenaciously sought to conceal. Such activities included, among others, the illegal use of weapons in conflict, arms transfers to abusive forces, and the production of banned weapons. Through investigation of such practices, the Arms Project was able to embarrass and stigmatize offending authorities, and to galvanize members of the international community to exert pressure to halt abuses and the arms supplies that fuel these.

To build human rights concerns into efforts at conflict prevention: In the view of Human Rights Watch, human rights abuse fueled conflict, as did the supply of arms to abusive forces. Our approach to this problem was to seek to minimize the human cost of conflict and also contribute to its containment by raising the cost of abuse and of supplying arms to abusers. Information unearthed by the Arms Project provided new ammunition to international coalitions seeking to discourage warring sides from recourse to violent breaches of international norms.

To be a standard-setter: The Arms project was in the forefront of efforts to establish new homes and standards for the production, trade and use of arms, and of interpreting existing standards. In a fast evolving world, new technology yielded new weapons and new practices at a steady pace, and both had the potential for abuse. New norms were required to regulate the development and use of new armaments. The fact that there had been so little documented use of chemical and biological weapons this century was largely due to the fact that a universally accepted norm against the use of these weapons had existed since 1925. The Arms Project, by conducting research and highlighting the connection between the arms trade (or particular weapons systems) and abuse, could build on popular outrage to establish norms regarding weapons transfers and production.

To promote accountability and transparency: Few domestic or international mechanisms existed to enforce freedom of information about arms transfers. The Arms Project made creative use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the U.S., using documents obtained under FOIA to put pressure on the U.S. government to release additional documents. The Arms Project also supported the creation of the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, and was pushing for the creation of a parallel register for light weapons and small arms. On the issue of accountability, the Arms Project was increasingly targeting individual weapons producers and weapons exporters. As Human Rights Watch was seeking to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations that occur as a result of their activities or as part of their production process, the Arms Project was conducting parallel research on landmine producers. By tracing the flow of weapons back to its origins, the Arms Project sought to press governments to rein in their own citizens involved in the sale of arms to abusive forces.

To engage and mobilize new human rights constituencies: Last but not least, the Arms Project was contributing to efforts aimed at strengthening the international human rights movement. In 1996, the Arms Project started to bring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into its circle of allies in two target countries, Turkey and Lebanon. These NGOs included natural allies, like human rights organizations, but also trade unions, teachers' associations, women's groups, peace groups, lawyers' unions, charitable organizations, and others. Basing ourselves on the presupposition that human rights enforcement and conflict prevention were best served by local remedies generated from within a strong and thriving civil society, we hoped that these organizations would bring extra pressure to bear on policymakers in the U.S. and the E.U. to comply with arms export regulations and remind Turkey, Israel, and Syria of their human rights obligations under existing treaties. This effort placed concrete tools in the hands of victims of abuse, contributing to their empowerment and, in the long run, the strengthening of their societies.

Within the framework outlined above, in 1996 the Arms Project was involved in the following programs.

Banning Landmines

During 1996, the movement toward a global ban on antipersonnel landmines gained tremendous momentum. It appeared to have become a question not of whether there will be a ban, but rather when. During the past year the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) grew from 350 NGOs to nearly 700 in about forty nations. Not coincidentally, the number of governments expressing public support for an immediate ban grew from fourteen to about fifty.

After negotiations on revisions to the Landmines Protocol of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) deadlocked in Vienna in October 1995, governments resumed talks in Geneva for one week in January 1996 and two final weeks in April/May 1996. The results were criticized by the ICBL and the International Committee of the Red Cross as grossly inadequate and unlikely to make a significant difference in the human suffering and socio-economic dislocation caused by mines.

Yet, even as the revised protocol was formally agreed to on May 3, 1996, it was clear that the movement to ban antipersonnel mines had overtaken the CCW process as the only humanitarian solution to the global mines crisis. Government after government announced its support for a total and immediate ban, including many NATO nations, and numerous nations unilaterally prohibited production, export and use. Nations that had bans already in place, such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Sweden, and Switzerland were at the forefront of the move to ban antipersonnel mines. The Organization of American States passed a resolution in June 1996 calling for a hemispheric mine-free zone and the six Central American presidents announced in September 1996 that they were banning all production, stockpiling, trade, and use of antipersonnel mines, creating in effect the world's first mine-free zone.

The U.S., on the other hand, issued a highly anticipated new policy statement on antipersonnel mines on May 16, 1996 that was criticized by the ICBL and the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) as long on rhetoric but short on action. Indeed, it could be argued that the U.S., which under the new policy continued to cling to the use of so-called smart mines in all circumstances, and long-lasting "dumb" mines at least in Korea, had become part of the problem, not a promoter of the solution. The highlight for the U.S. was the signing into law in February 1996 of the Leahy amendment requiring a one-year moratorium on the use of antipersonnel mines beginning in 1999.

At the urging of the ICBL, the government of Canada convened a historic meeting of fifty pro-ban governments in Ottawa in October 1996. The governments agreed to a final declaration committing them to a ban, and to an agenda for action that set out specific steps at the national, regional and international levels necessary to achieve a ban.

In the most important development of the year, and perhaps the history of the campaign, Canada made the dramatic announcement that it would host a conference in December 1997 at which states would be invited to sign a treaty totally banning antipersonnel mines. Belgium indicated its intention to hold a preparatory negotiating conference in June 1997.

As one of the most active members of the Steering Committee of the ICBL, the Arms Project played an important role in these developments. The Arms Project was also instrumental in the growth of the USCBL, which evolved from a loose coalition to a highly organized campaign during 1996. The Arms Project served as the chair of the Steering Committee of the USCBL. The Arms Project collected information identifying U.S. producers of landmine components, which was used by the USCBL to launch a stigmatization campaign calling on all manufacturers to get out of the business.

Banning Chemical and Biological Weapons

In 1996, the Arms Project continued to develop its network of experts, who agreed to serve as a resource to the organization, and to contact other organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, concerned about the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons (CBW). This year the Arms Project responded to reports of the use of chemical weapons in Chechnya, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Uganda. Although we were able to establish through our network of contacts that there was little credible evidence to support these allegations, we remained interested in further information about these cases. The Arms Project was involved in a major investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bosnian Serb forces during the war in the former Yugoslavia. This investigation was still in progress in November 1996.

The Arms Project continued to monitor the state of CBW proliferation and maintained files on all countries that potentially possess or were developing chemical or biological weapons. This effort was supplemented with FOIA requests to different branches of the U.S. government. In addition to obtaining relevant information about U.S. knowledge of CBW proliferation, we saw the FOIA option as a way of fostering greater transparency and accountability when U.S. government officials reported a growing number of CBW possessor states but failed to name the countries of concern.

In 1996 the Arms Project also looked at the impact of the breakup of the former Soviet Union and declining defense expenditures in Russia, the former East Bloc, and the industrialized states on CBW proliferation. Weapons, or materials for weapons, might have been sold to states seeking chemical or biological weapons, and scientists with the technical expertise to develop CBW could have sold their services to these countries. The Arms Project closely monitored all reports of transfers of CBW munitions, materials, or expertise.

Human Rights Watch also continued to push for ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Recently the Arms Project joined a coalition of organizations urging U.S. senators to ratify the convention. Human Rights Watch also supported negotiations toward a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention.

Engaging and Mobilizing New Human Rights Constituencies

In 1996, the Arms Project began to explore ways of involving other NGOs in efforts to curb the transfer of arms to abusive forces. In this context, we met with scores of NGOs in Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel in an attempt to identify both potential partners and appropriate mechanisms to activate in the pursuit of greater protection of civilians in conflicts in southeastern Turkey and southern Lebanon/northern Israel. Our aim was to persuade human rights NGOs to add arms transfers to their agenda to the extent that such transfers could be linked to abuses of human rights. Likewise, we encouraged other NGOs to add both human rights concerns and arms trade-related issues to their agendas to the extent that arms transfers and human rights abuses had an impact on their work and their effectiveness within their own societies.

In the case of Turkey, we provided NGOs with the names and fax numbers of key officials in the U.S. government and E.U. institutions to facilitate communications, and we suggested particular courses of actions that could be taken. These included protesting the (now frozen) sale of Super Cobra helicopters by the U.S., as well as the pending sale of Eurocopters by France. We were also seeking to engage the U.S. and the E.U. concerning both their role in the arms trade to Turkey (through their domestic obligations to link arms transfers to human rights conditions in recipient countries) and the human rights obligations to which they and the Turkish government had committed themselves.

In the case of Lebanon, we began a collaborative project with the Center for International Human Rights Enforcement in the West Bank to persuade the parliaments of E.U. member states to condition ratification of the recently signed Trade Association agreement between the E.U. and Israel on the establishment of mechanisms of human rights enforcement. The agreement had useful human rights language but lacked implementing measures. Israeli and Lebanese NGOs had a role to play in providing human rights information to the various European parliaments involved and in placing added pressure on parliamentarians to raise the profile of human rights in E.U. trade agreements.

By mobilizing indigenous NGOs around specific agendas, we sought to expand our circle of human rights allies in various parts of the world that were wracked by conflict, assisting them in their work and at the same time improving our own research and advocacy activities.

Investigating the New Generation of Antipersonnel Weapons

Based on the success in banning blinding laser weapons in 1995, in 1996 the Arms Project started research in the area of other next-generation antipersonnel weapons – often deceptively characterized as "nonlethal" weapons – focusing on the humanitarian implications of acoustic weapons, directed-energy weapons, non-laser blinding weapons, and weapons that use illegal chemical and biological components. Our aim was to prevent the development of weapons that either clearly indiscriminate (i.e., incapable of discriminating between combatants and civilians) or cause unnecessary suffering in the terms of international humanitarian law.

"Nonlethal" weapons were being touted as a humanitarian panacea to the brutalities of war. They fell into an emerging category of weapons that were purportedly designed not to kill but to disable, and that included weapons ranging from anti-movement foams, glues and lubricants to super-caustic acids, high-power microwaves, blinding lights, infrasound and genetically engineered targeted weapons. Although many of the weapons in this category did not yet exist, they did exist as ideas, while some were already in development. The Pentagon had hidden a number of these programs in "black" (i.e., secret) budgets. One way or another, there was no doubt that weapons employing new technologies would emerge over the coming years – with humanitarian implications that merit careful scrutiny. The first Department of Defense directive establishing a policy on "nonlethal" weapons was signed on July 9, 1996.

We were concerned that some of the nonlethal weapons that were being "thought up" and developed (or even deployed) could violate international humanitarian law, just as we found was the case with tactical laser weapons that blind. In our view, the term "nonlethal" was a misnomer at best: some of the so-called nonlethal weapons did kill (often depending on the distance the target finds itself from the weapon); others made it easier for the target, once disabled, to be killed with lethal weapons. Moreover, international humanitarian law prohibits weapons that are indiscriminate (like landmines) or cause "superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering." Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 adds that parties to the protocol are under an obligation "[i]n the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means, or method of determine whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited" by the protocol or "any other rule of international law." The review of the humanitarian effect of new weapons at the development stage was a particular concern of the Arms Project. In the case of blinding lasers, we argued that these weapons were inhumane (causing unnecessary suffering) and repugnant to the conscience of humankind, as they do severely disabling, irreversible and uncorrectable damage to one of the vital senses. (These problems are compounded in countries with poor medical and health facilities).

Each new "nonlethal" weapon will have to stand the test of humanitarian law. Our task will be to distinguish the "bad" ones from the "good" ones, and then to stigmatize and prevent the development and use of those that are found to violate international law. In addition, we were concerned that the Pentagon was not carrying out the required review of the humanitarian law implications of the use of "nonlethal" weapons that are currently in development. In 1996, the Arms Project began an investigation of U.S. and foreign programs on acoustic and other directed-energy weapons, paying special attention to military efforts to assess the medical and health effects of these weapons.

Curbing Arms Transfers to Human Rights Abusers

In 1996, we continued our work in documenting the role of the arms trade in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and in seeking to curb the transfer of arms in those cases in which weapons have contributed significantly to abuses. Our activities focused on Turkey, the Great Lakes district in Central Africa, Angola, and Colombia. The Arms Project also completed a project on Israel/Lebanon, and started an investigation into the role of arms in the war in Sudan.


Following the release of the report, Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey, in November 1995, we focused our energies on drawing attention to the report and its recommendations, and putting pressure on the various parties involved to carry out some of the reforms proposed by us. Our activities included:

Issuing a statement at the end of 1995 to denounce a controversial proposed sale by the U.S. of 120 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Turkey: This was the first foreign sale of the U.S.'s most advanced ground-to-ground missile. We protested the sale on the basis of Turkey's record of systematic human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war in the southeast, including the indiscriminate use of a variety of weapons and, on a number of occasions, the direct targeting of civilians. The sale had been under consideration by the U.S. for a number of months, but was not previously approved, primarily because of human rights concerns. Although it was unlikely that Turkey would use this particular weapon in its conflict with the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK), Human Rights Watch held that approving this sale at a time of heightened concern about Turkey's human rights record would send the wrong message to the government of Turkey. Despite our attempt to block it, the sale was approved in early 1996.

Participation in an ad hoc campaign to block the sale of ten Super Cobra attack helicopters to Turkey: The campaign was coordinated by the Arms Transfer Working Group (ATWG) in Washington, of which the Arms Project is a long-standing member, and was joined by other U.S. NGOs, including Amnesty International, the Helsinki Commission, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In meetings with U.S. policymakers we communicated our concern about the proposed sale of a category of helicopters that our research in 1995 had shown to have been used in international humanitarian law violations in Turkey. In March, we signed on to a letter protesting the proposed sale that was sent by the ATWG coalition to Secretary of State Warren Christopher. As a result of the pressure that came out of these joint efforts, the proposed sale of the Super Cobras was frozen.

Drafting an action plan for Turkish NGOs: After we had discussed our report with a number of NGOs in Istanbul and Ankara in November 1995, we proceeded to draft an action plan enabling Turkish NGOs to directly protest any proposed U.S. or E.U. arms sales to Turkey. This action plan was completed in April 1996, and distributed in Turkish shortly thereafter.

Providing information: Based on our investigations into and advocacy regarding misuse of weapons in Turkey, we contributed to a decision of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Foreign Operations to request a report from the State and Defense Departments on efforts by the administration to monitor use of U.S. military aircraft, including helicopters, in Turkey. The report was due by June 1, 1997.

Protesting repression: In September 1996, the publisher of the Turkish translation of our report, Ayse Zarakolu, and the translator, Ertugurul Kurkcu, were indicted under Article 159/1 of the Turkish penal code for "defaming and belittling the state's security and military forces." Human Rights Watch vigorously protested this outrageous attempt by the Turkish government at stifling free expression, which was aimed not as much at Human Rights Watch, the author of the report, as at those who had made the information collected by Human Rights Watch available to the Turkish public. Human Rights Watch sent an observer to the first hearing in the trial, in Istanbul on October 18. A second hearing was scheduled for November 23.

Great Lakes District of Central Africa

The Arms Project initiated work on Burundi after 1995 research on the Rwandan genocide showed the importance of exposing the role of outside actors in empowering governments or rebel forces to carry out highly abusive military campaigns. In the case of Rwanda, we published a report on arms shipments to both the government and the rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in early 1994, only two months before the start of the genocide. The report was largely ignored at the time. We then published a follow-up report in May 1995, based on research in 1994-95, in which we pointed a finger at France, Zaire, China, and some other countries for having provided direct military aid to the Rwandan government during the genocide, or for having facilitated the transshipment of arms to the defeated government's forces after these had been driven from Rwanda to eastern Zaire in the summer of 1994. This report received wide coverage, and led to strong language in a U.N. Security Council resolution in June 1995, calling for the deployment of international military observers at airfields in Zaire. Following Zaire's refusal to cooperate with the Security Council, the council then created an International Commission of Inquiry into arms shipments to Rwandan rebel forces. In its investigation, this commission based itself largely on the accusations made by the Arms Project, and in its second report in March 1996 it presented conclusions that were in accord with our findings.

The establishment of a formal mechanism by which to enforce the U.N. arms embargo concerning Rwanda and to investigate alleged violations of the embargo had set an important precedent, and may have been a deterrent to those states that had sought to advance their geostrategic interests in Central Africa by supplying weapons to their local allies. The situation in Burundi in 1996 was near-explosive, and had some of the characteristics that marked the run-up to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Human Rights Watch therefore called on the United Nations to institute an arms embargo on Burundi as well, and made efforts to expand the International Commission of Inquiry's mandate to include Burundi. To add power to our recommendations, we undertook an investigation of the role of the arms trade in fueling the conflict in Burundi, which was in progress as of this writing. We also met with government officials in South Africa in October to express our concern about the involvement of South African nationals in illegal arms trafficking and other military activities in areas of Africa wracked by highly abusive conflicts, including the Great Lakes district.


Our research on Angola had focused on the role of continuing arms shipments to both the government and the UNITA rebels in the wake of the 1994 peace accords – the Lusaka Protocol – in clear violation of the international arms embargo. In February 1996, the Arms Project and Human Rights Watch/Africa jointly published Angola – Between War and Peace: Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses since the Lusaka Protocol. The report concluded that despite the signing of the Lusaka Protocol, extensive human rights abuses continued to be committed by both sides.

Moreover, both sides continued to acquire additional weapons. The Lusaka Protocol prohibits both sides from resupplying their military forces with "any military equipment, lethal or otherwise." Furthermore, U.N. Security Council Resolution 864 (September 1993) clearly prohibits the sale and supply of any military or petroleum products to UNITA, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 976 (February 1995) calls on both the government and UNITA "to cease any acquisition of arms and war materiel." Although arms shipments declined in 1995, new weaponry, especially from Russia and the Ukraine, reached the government. These were not merely pre-1995 orders; as the year progressed it was evident that the government was still purchasing new arms and military equipment. UNITA brought in new weapons both over land and on secret flights from Zaire and Congo to airstrips in the diamond-rich Lunda provinces. Sporadic but fierce fighting continued in the diamond areas throughout 1995.

Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. to institute an unambiguous and comprehensive arms embargo on Angola, applicable to both the government and UNITA, and to encourage member states to submit information on past weapons exports to Angola to the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms. Human Rights Watch called on the governments of South Africa, Zaire, and Congo, in particular, to assist the U.N. in its attempts to monitor UNITA sanction-busting; to stop mercenaries from their countries or who transit their countries from operating in Angola; and, in the case of Zaire, to take all measures to stop the use of Zaire as a conduit for the illegal arms trade (a recommendation that echoes recommendations we have made to Zaire with respect to Rwanda in 1995).

In response to the report, the Angolan government issued a statement denouncing our "false allegations," but indicated that it had committed itself to halting the import of arms and terminating its contract with a major South African security outfit. After intensive lobbying by Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Security Council adopted language in a resolution on Angola in May 1996 that reflected our human rights concerns, including a call on both parties to destroy their stockpiles of landmines and a call on member states to reinforce the weapons ban. Later in 1996, we launched a renewed investigation of further shipments of arms to both the Angolan government and UNITA.


In 1996 the Arms Project with Human Rights Watch/Americas completed its investigation of the lethal nexus between the Colombian military forces and irregular paramilitary death squads, and the role of the U.S. government in reorganizing the military intelligence network in Colombia, which relies heavily on paramilitaries in the army's campaign against insurgents. A joint report by the Arms Project and Human Rights Watch/Americas released in November concluded that a team of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency worked closely with Colombian military officers on the 1991 reorganization of the military intelligence apparatus, which made paramilitary groups a key component. Working under the direct orders of military high command, paramilitary forces incorporated into military intelligence networks conducted surveillance of legal opposition political figures and groups, operated with military units, then carried out attacks against targets chosen by their military commanders. In some regions in Colombia, the military armed and equipped paramilitaries, patrolled with them and used them as guides, and issued weapons licenses to known paramilitary leaders. In some cases, the military gave orders on whom to kill and when.

Research by Human Rights Watch also shed light on the "strategy of impunity" pursued by the Colombian military. The deeds of officers who work with para-militaries, brought to light again and again by the government's civilian investigators, have been systematically covered up by the military justice system, allowing these same officers to return to the field and continue their work of organizing, directing and deploying paramilitary groups.

The U.S. military authorities, in addition to making recommendations about the restructuring of Colombian intelligence in 1991, turned a blind eye to abuses, even though they have acknowledged that training and weapons provided to Colombia for counter-drug purposes may have been used in counterinsurgency operations during which human rights violations have occurred. Human Rights Watch has also obtained evidence showing that U.S. military personnel continue to advise and train the Colombian military, including the navy, and work in areas where the military maintains a partnership with paramilitaries.

Human Rights Watch made a number of recommendations to the Colombian government, the U.S. government, and the international community. In Colombia, we called for an end to the "strategy of impunity," urging, among other measures, investigation and prosecution of officers suspected of involvement in abuses. Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to immediately suspend all military aid, sales and other forms of military and security assistance to Colombia until there is an end to the abuses committed by military-supported paramilitaries.


In April 1996, Israeli forces carried out a large-scale military operation in Lebanon, dubbed "Operation Grapes of Wrath." The Arms Project, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch/Middle East, had just completed a study on the ongoing conflict in southern Lebanon and violations of international humanitarian law by both Israeli forces and Hizballah guerrillas. Our report was released in May, updated to reflect preliminary findings about the most recent round of fighting. This report, Civilian Pawns: Laws of War Violations and the Use of Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border, described attacks on civilians on both sides of the border, and devoted special attention to the weapons used in the conflict. Most of Israel's arsenal derived from U.S. military assistance and sales. We were particularly concerned about Israel's illegal use of phosphorus and flechette shells in civilian areas. Hizballah, which had allegedly received most of its weaponry from Iran via Syria, was criticized for indiscriminately firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

The Arms Project visited Israel, Lebanon, and Syria in May to release the report and discuss our findings with policymakers from all the parties concerned. We also met with a large number of NGOs in Israel and Lebanon to explore ways of effectively pressing both parties to protect civilians during the conflict. The Arms Project, in cooperation with Human Rights Watch/Middle East, also investigated Israeli attacks on civilian power transformers in Lebanon during the April operation.

The United Nations International Standards and Multilateral Measures

According to figures released in 1996, aggregate world military spending continued to decline in 1995, although the downward trend is tapering off. This trend also did not represent the entire world, for although there were heavy reductions in the western industrialized states and Russia, military spending continued to increase in certain countries and regions, notably the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The United States was the predominant arms supplier to the developing world in 1992-1995, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. The U.S. earned US$40.6 billion (constant 1995 dollars) from arms transfer agreements, 45.3 percent of all developing world agreements. During this period, France, the second leading supplier, accounted for nearly 21 percent of all arms transfers to the developing world, valued at $18.8 billion.

The major 1995 supplier to the developed world – in terms of contracts signed – was Russia with $6 billion in arms transfer agreements (39 percent). The United States was second with $3.8 billion (24.6 percent) and France was third with $2.4 billion (15.6 percent). In actual deliveries of arms during 1995 – based on contracts signed previously – the United States led with $9.5 billion, 44 percent of the total, and the United Kingdom was second with $4.5 billion, or 20.8 percent of such deliveries.

In 1996, more states submitted information to the (voluntary) U.N. Register of Conventional Arms. As of October 7, ninety-one states had replied to U.N. requests for information. Although this information continued to contain inaccuracies and notable omissions, the register was an important source of information on the global arms trade and fostered transparency and accountability. The register continued to cover only seven categories of major weapons systems; it did not include the international trade in light arms.

In July, representatives of thirty-three states met in Vienna, Austria, and established the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. Participating states agreed to control all items set forth in the list of dual-use goods and technologies as well as the munitions list with the aim of preventing unauthorized transfers or re-transfers of these items to a region or a state of serious concern to the participating states. To facilitate the future work of the Wassenaar Arrangement and possibly expand and enhance it, the participants also created a secretariat in Vienna. The next Plenary of the Wassenaar Arrangement was scheduled for December 1996 in Vienna.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (the Chemical Weapons Convention, CWC), continued to garner signatures in 1996. By the end of October, the required sixty-five states had ratified the convention, which was therefore scheduled to come into force after 180 days, i.e., in April 1997. Except for the U.S. and Russia, nearly all the world's large chemical producers had already ratified. Soon after the deposition of the sixty-fifth instrument of ratification in October, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague was expected to expand its staff and convene the first session of the Conference of State Parties, which will be responsible for the treaty's implementation.

There were few developments with respect to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1996. The BWC has review conferences every five years to assess progress on adherence to the Convention. At the end of the conference, the final document, agreed on by consensus, reports on the state of progress on each article. The Third Review Conference in 1991 called for an examination of possible verification regimes to the BWC. The next review conference was scheduled to take place in Geneva at the end of 1996. In 1994, an ad hoc group was established by a special conference to draft a legally-binding protocol for strengthening the BWC. This group met twice in 1996 and was expected to continue to meet in 1997.

Unfortunately, confidence in the BWC had declined since the last conference because of the admission by the Russian Federation in 1992 that despite being a co-depository of the BWC in 1975 it had an offensive program until March 1992; disclosures in 1995 that Iraq had developed and deployed biological weapons; and reports that the private religious cult Aum Shinrikyo in Japan had been close to developing a biological weapons capability.

International Arms Embargoes

The U.N. Security Council imposed arms embargoes eleven times since 1966, nine of these since 1990. At the end of 1996, U.N. arms embargoes were still in place against Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, and UNITA in Angola. The Security Council's decision in August 1995 to lift the arms embargo provisionally against the government of Rwanda became final in September 1996, but the embargo remained in place against former Rwandan government forces in states neighboring Rwanda. (The forces of the government ousted in 1994 were based primarily in eastern Zaire.) The 1991 arms embargo against Yugoslavia came to an end in June 1996 within months after it was revealed that the Clinton administration had decided not to object to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia in 1994. In August 1996, the Security Council threatened to consider an arms embargo against Burundi if that country's leaders and rebels did not begin unconditional talks by October 31.

The embargoes that remained in place in 1996 were enforced to lesser or greater effect depending on the interest and political will of the international community in every particular case. The sanctions committees routinely established as part of the arms embargo mechanism were under a mandate to collect information regarding implementation of those embargoes and recommend ways to increase their effectiveness. However, in the case of Rwanda, the U.N. Security Council created the additional framework of an International Commission of Inquiry regarding the sale or supply of arms and related materiel to former Rwandan government forces in the Great Lakes region, following revelations made by the Arms Project in May 1995 about arms shipments to these forces. The commission was primarily a fact-finding body composed of serving military and police officers. While it did not have the legal powers or the resources of a police force or investigative agency, it actively investigated reports on the sale or supply of arms and related materiel and the provision of military training to former Rwandan government forces.

In its second report in March 1996, the commission concluded that "it is highly probable" that the U.N. arms embargo had been violated in at least two instances that were brought to light in the May 1995 Arms Project report, Rearming with Impunity: International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. In its report, the commission criticized the U.N. sanctions process, pointing to the lack of U.N.-based information and the slow response time to events. For example, the commission was created some sixteen months after the adoption of the arms embargo on Rwanda in May 1994 and a month after the Security Council decided to lift the embargo provisionally on supplies to the (new) government in Kigali. The commission also stated that if Security Council resolutions are to be properly implemented and the commission's recommendations for this are adopted, "sufficient additional resources must be made available" to implement them.

Among its recommendations, which the Arms Project supported, the commission proposed that U.N. observers be stationed in Zaire to monitor implementation of the arms embargo and that particular governments should investigate allegations against their nationals or companies located within their borders in connection with possible sanctions busting. In addition, the commission recommended creation of sanctions committees that would have expanded functions and suggested parallel systems within individual countries that would aid in implementing and enforcing arms embargoes. The commission also recommended that countries bordering a country under an arms embargo should help maintain a data bank on the movement and acquisition of small arms, ammunition, and materiel.

At the end of October, the commission had completed its third report, but by the middle of November the Security Council had yet to release it to the public. Having obtained a leaked copy, the Arms Project issued a press release on November 11, calling on the Security Council to publish the report forthwith and act upon the Commission's conclusions and recommendations. In its report, the Commission showed how arms continued to flow to the former Rwandan government forces, and how these forces raised funds and conducted military training in refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania. In response to these findings, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations and the international donor community to implement effective controls to enforce the international arms embargo against the former Rwandan government forces; to extend the mandate of the International Commission for the period of at least another year; to encourage member states of the United Nations to take legal actions against their nationals involved in arms trafficking in violation of U.N. arms embargoes, even if said individuals are operating in third countries; and to encourage states in the Great Lakes area to establish a regional arms register as a way of encouraging transparency about the arms trade and as a first step toward curbing the supply of weapons to armed forces engaged in human rights abuses.

The process to end the arms embargo imposed in September 1991 on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Yugoslavia began in November 1995. In Resolution 1021, the Security Council set out provisions for a termination of the arms embargo in stages. All provisions of the embargo were terminated in March 1996, with the exception of those related to heavy weapons, mines, military aircraft, and helicopters. The Security Council terminated the remaining provisions in June 1996.

In April it was revealed that the Clinton administration had decided two years earlier not to object to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia at the height of the war in the former Yugoslavia. In testimony before the House International Relations Committee in April 1996, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff said the Clinton administration had feared for the survival of the Sarajevo government. U.S. officials were quoted as insisting that the administration was not obliged to impede the Iranian shipments under the terms of the U.N. Security Council embargo. Undersecretary Tarnoff said U.S. representatives were told to respond to inquiries by the Croatian government regarding the arms shipments by stating that they had " no instructions" on the matter. He also testified that the U.S. had no contact with the Iranian government regarding the weapons.

United States

The key U.S. initiative to control the proliferation of conventional arms around the globe in 1996 was its support for the formation of the Wassenaar Arrangement (see above). Aside from this new initiative, aimed at stopping the flow of weapons to only a handful of "rogue states," U.S. arms trade policy continued to be one more of promotion – for economic reasons – than of control.

The Arms Project had for several years promoted the establishment of both a U.S. and European "code of conduct" for arms transfers that would, among other things, prohibit arms exports to governments that did not respect human rights. In July 1996, a bill based on this concept, sponsored by Senator Hatfield and Senator Dorgan, was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 65-35. Though a loss, the debate and recorded vote put advocates of the code in a good position to advance the proposal in the next Congress.

President Clinton announced a new landmines policy in May 1996 that had by November resulted in little new concrete action (see above).

The vote for U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for September 12, was postponed at the last minute when former Senator Bob Dole, the Republican candidate for president, sent a letter to the Senate majority leader opposing ratification. Opponents proposed two deliberately impossible amendments to the ratification measure. One declared that the treaty would not come into effect until the CIA certifies it is able to verify CWC compliance with "high confidence," and the other that it would not take effect unless North Korea, Libya and Iraq ratified it. As Dole's letter placed Republican supporters of the CWC in a difficult position, the Clinton administration decided to postpone the vote, thereby ensuring that the U.S. would not be one of the original sixty-five state parties to the CWC.

Because the 104th Congress ended in September 1996, it became clear that the treaty would again have to be reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before it could be voted on by the entire Senate. The Convention was expected to come up for a vote again early in 1997, possibly still before its entry into force in April.

This report covers the events of 1996

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