Human Rights Report Release: A Moment to Reflect on U.S. Arms Policy

By Jeff Abramson

In a live broadcast at 11:30 this morning, the State Department will release its annual human rights report. Among many hopes of what will become of this important yearly assessment, one is that it will spur an examination of U.S. arms transfer policies .

As noted last week, ACA staff have cross-checked the list of 28 countries for which Congress was notified of foreign military sales last year against the State Department’s last human rights reports.  More than a third (11) of the states failed to guarantee freedom of speech, association, and assembly, as well as a free press. Torture, arbitrary arrest, and discrimination remained a problem in many of these same states. (Spreadsheet and further explanation available here.)

As arms supplying countries are reacting to the changes in the Middle East, and in many cases stopping transfers and rescinding licenses, the UK Parliament’s Committees on Armed Export Controls has just published its own report, which found:

the present Government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression…. We also recommend that the Government sets out how it intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights.

Given these findings, researchers and advocates are asking that a review now underway in the UK be as comprehensive as possible and involve civil society.

For the United States, whose policies promote human rights and practices promote expanded arms sales, it is time to heed this advice and conduct its own comprehensive review of arms transfer policy. As governments around the globe work to create a robust arms trade treaty, it is essential that the world’s largest arms supplier is setting a world class standard.

the present Government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for
export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be
used for internal repression. We welcome the revocation of a number of arms export
licences to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and recommend that the Government
extends immediately its review of UK arms export licences for countries in North Africa
and the wider Middle East to authoritarian regimes worldwide. We also recommend
that the Government sets out how it intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest
between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of
human rights.

About Jeff Abramson

Deputy Director, Arms Control Association
This entry was posted in Arms Trade, Conventional Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

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