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Report: The Role of U.S. Arms Transfers in Human Rights Violations- World Policy Institute - Research Project
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TESTIMONY - Weapons at War
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The Role of U.S. Arms Transfers in Human Rights Violations:
Before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights,
At the outset, I’d like to underscore one overriding reason why the question of the impact of U.S. arms transfers on human rights has special significance. According to the United States government’s own figures, as reported by Richard Grimmett of the Congressional Research Service, the United States is the world’s leading arms merchant. U.S. weapons sales accounted for 54% of all international arms deliveries in 1999, the most recent year for which full statistics are available. That’s more than four times the value of arms exported by the next biggest supplier, the United Kingdom; more than seven times the levels registered by France and Russia; and fifty-four times the level of conventional arms exports registered by China.
It appears that this position of U.S. dominance in the weapons trade is likely to continue for some time to come: in 1999, the State Department granted a record $53.7 billion in arms export licenses. Although not all of these licenses will result in final sales, they are a disturbing indicator of a pro-export attitude that has permeated Executive Branch policymaking on arms transfers throughout the post-Cold War period.
As the leading arms supplier – and as the world’s oldest, most widely respected democracy – the United States has a special obligation to set strict standards about the kinds of governments that receive U.S. weaponry. If we don’t do it, no other nation will. As Jimmy Carter put it in 1976, "we cannot have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms."
I have been working on the issue of U.S. arms transfers since the late 1970s, when the Carter administration’s policies of promoting human rights and arms transfer restraint were beginning to give way to allegedly more "realistic," hardline policies. Under the guise of strengthening longstanding allies like the Shah of Iran and winning over former adversaries like the People’s Republic of China, the Carter administration walked away from its commitment to reduce the United States role as the world’s leading arms merchant. More than twenty years later, I believe more strongly than ever that when it comes to arming human rights abusers, the self-appointed "realists" are the ones who are living in a dream world, while the advocates of restricting arms exports to repressive regimes are the ones who are grounded in reality.
From Iran to Indonesia, and from Central America to the Congo, our nation’s role as the world’s leading arms merchant has done far more harm than good. Using arms sales as a way to win friends and intimidate adversaries has not only fostered serious human rights abuses in the recipient nations; it has also undermined U.S. interests by spreading instability and fueling conflict.
It’s time to make human rights the primary consideration in U.S. arms sales decision-making, not just one factor among many. We need to move beyond the point where, on issues of national security concern, human rights considerations are routinely cast aside in favor of more pressing, "pragmatic" concerns. At the dawn of a new millennium, in the first few months of a new administration and a new Congress, it is time to take a serious look at the impact of U.S. arms sales on human rights with an eye towards changing our arms sales policies for the better. It is my hope that today’s hearings will be an important step in that process.
U.S. Policy: Rhetoric Meets Reality
In practice, U.S. arms transfer policy diverges sharply from these sound principles of human rights and non-aggression. Nearly six years ago, in one of the first major research reports produced by my project, U.S. Weapons at War, we took a look at just how large the gap between rhetoric and reality is in U.S. arms transfer policy. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will cite some of the relevant findings:
In a report that I like to view as a companion piece to our Weapons at War report, our colleagues at Demilitarization for Democracy, which is now a project of the Center for International Policy, looked specifically at the question of what proportion of U.S. arms sales goes to repressive regimes. The first edition of that report, Dictators or Democracies? - U.S. Arms Transfers to Developing Countries 1991-1994, found that non-democratic governments received 85 percent of the $55.2 billion in American weapons that were transferred to foreign governments between 1991 and 1994. By the time the fourth edition of this report was released in April 1999, the percentage of U.S. arms transfers to the developing world going to undemocratic governments had dropped to 47% -- still a shockingly high level for a nation committed to the principles of human rights, democracy, and non-aggression – but, to make matters even worse, the dollar value of U.S. weaponry delivered to undemocratic governments reached a record level of $7.3 billion. In the latest edition of the report, issued in November 2000, the Center for International Policy found that during Fiscal Year 1998 54% of U.S. arms transfers to the developing world went to undemocratic governments, representing total transfers of $5.8 billion to these regimes in that year.
The reality of runaway U.S. arms transfers to questionable regimes documented in these reports -- and in the work of other non-governmental watchdog groups including Amnesty International, the Arms Project at Human Rights Watch, the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists, the Council for a Livable World, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Center for Defense Information, and the British American Security Information Council, to name just a few of the organizations that put time and effort into this important issue -- is what motivated a network of members of Congress from both parties, including Senators Mark Hatfield (R-OR) and Byron Dorgan (D-OH) and Representatives Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) to press for the establishment of a Code of Conduct on U.S. arms transfers. The idea behind the Code of Conduct was to firmly establish detailed criteria on human rights, democracy, and non-aggression as primary factors in decisions by the U.S. government about which countries are eligible to receive U.S. arms and training. Although the bill did not become law in its original form, a modified version, the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act of 1999, was enacted as an amendment to the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001.
The International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act had two main elements: 1) Calling upon the president to "attempt to achieve the foreign policy goal of an international arms sales code of conduct" by "taking the necessary steps to begin negotiations within appropriate international fora" toward that end; and 2) Calling upon the Secretary of State to "describe the extent to which the practices of each country meet the criteria" of the code of conduct in the annual human rights report to Congress.
The criteria enumerated in the International Code of Conduct are worth referencing here, because they represent the most explicit effort to date on the part of the Congress to articulate the link between decisions on U.S. arms transfers and military training and the human rights performance of recipient nations. The relevant sections of the law are as follows:
"The President shall consider the following criteria in the negotiations referred to in subsection (a):
(1) Promotes democracy. – The government of the country –
(A) was chosen by and permits free and fair elections;
(B) promotes civilian control of the military and security forces and has civilian institutions controlling the policy, operation, and spending of all law enforcement and security institutions, as well as the armed forces;
(C) promotes the rule of law and provides its nationals the same rights they would be afforded under the United States Constitution if they were United States citizens; and
(D) promotes the strengthening of political, legislative, and civil institutions of democracy, as well as autonomous institutions to monitor the conduct of public officials and to combat corruption;
(2) Respects human rights. – The government of the country–
(A) does not persistently engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including –
(i) extrajudicial or arbitrary executions;
(iii) torture or severe mistreatment;
(iv) prolonged arbitrary imprisonment;
(v) systematic official discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin, or political affiliation; and
(vi) grave breaches of international laws of war or equivalent violations of the laws of war in internal armed conflicts;
(B) vigorously investigates, disciplines, and prosecutes those responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights;
(C) permits access on a regular basis to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations;
(D) promotes the independence of the judiciary and other official bodies that oversee the protection of human rights;
(E) does not impede the free functioning of domestic and international human rights organizations;
(F) provides access on a regular basis to humanitarian organizations in situations of conflict or famine."
U.S. Arms Transfers and Human Rights Abuses: The Recent Record
As a first cut at the question, I will try to provide a rough and ready update of the benchmarks referenced above with respect to provision of weaponry to areas of conflict and undemocratic governments. In our preliminary research for a forthcoming update of our "Weapons at War," report, my colleague Michelle Ciarrocca determined, based on a list of conflicts under way during 1999 developed by the Canadian research group Project Ploughshares, that the United States had supplied arms or military technology to parties to more than 92% of the active conflicts worldwide -- 39 of 42 -- a slight increase from the 90% figure that obtained when we did a similar assessment in 1995. While in some cases the levels of U.S. arms and training were relatively modest, in well over one-third of the conflicts -- 18 of 42 -- the United States was a major supplier, providing anywhere from 10% to 90% of the arms imported by the government party to the dispute.
On the question of arms transfers to undemocratic governments, I am not in a position to replicate the kind of detailed research done by my colleagues at the Center for International Policy, referenced above. But in reviewing the human rights records of major recipients of U.S. arms and military training as presented in the State Department’s human rights report for 2000, I have been able to get a rough indication of how much U.S. weaponry continues to flow to governments with records of serious human rights violations. Drawing on statistics from the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency on deliveries under the Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales programs during Fiscal Year 1999, the United States delivered roughly $6.8 billion in armaments to nations which violate the basic standards set out in the International Code of Conduct on Arms Sales. This figure is based on a conservative assessment, which includes only countries with major human rights problems, such as an inability of the people to effect a peaceful change of government, or poor records on a number of key indicators, such as involvement in extrajudicial killings and torture combined with a record of active repression against civilian non-combatants and/or non-governmental human rights monitoring organizations. Of this $6.8 billion, $5.3 billion went to developing nations, representing more than 55% of U.S. transfers to developing nations during F.Y. 1999.
So, if we look at the big picture, we clearly have a long way to go before our values of democracy and human rights are adequately reflected in the arms transfer policies of the United States. But numbers alone are not sufficient to tell the story. The real tragedy of our current policy can be seen by looking at some concrete examples of how U.S. weapons are being used.
In the period since East Timor gained its independence, the pattern of serious human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military has continued, both with respect to Timorese citizens and in Indonesia proper. The Indonesian armed forces have failed to rein in the militias, which have been terrorizing and murdering East Timorese refugees in the camps in West Timor, and in a number of cases members of the Indonesian armed forces have continued to collaborate with militia forces. The Indonesian armed forces have also been implicated in the murders of civilians in the Indonesian provinces of Irian Jaya, Aceh, and Malaku.
These violations are well documented in the State Department’s Indonesia country report on human rights, which notes, for example, that in Aceh, "army and police personnel committed many extrajudicial killings,"; that in Irian Jaya (Papua) "police shot and killed persons involved in largely peaceful Papuan independence flag-raisings and demonstrations"; and that "East Timorese pro-integration militias based in West Timor, who, according to credible reports, continued to be armed and supported by the army, committed numerous extrajudicial killings." The State Department report goes on to note that "the military or police are rarely held accountable for committing extrajudicial killings or using excessive force."
The recent record of the Indonesian armed forces in no way measures up to the standards set out in the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct. Yet later this month, Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell to lobby for resumption of full military ties between the United States and Indonesia, a move which has been adamantly opposed by the East Timor Action Network and the newly founded Indonesian Human Rights Network, which I am affiliated with as a board member. If the human rights report made a more explicit reference to the historic U.S. arms supply relationship with Indonesia, and referenced the standards set out in the International Arms Sale Code of Conduct, it would establish a more conducive atmosphere for serious, well-informed, ongoing policy discussions of the links between arms transfers and human rights.
Going back to the mid-1990s, a series of reports by independent monitoring groups like Human Rights Watch and by our own State Department have documented the use of U.S. weaponry to bomb and burn Kurdish villages in southeastern Turkey, as well as the use of U.S.-supplied light weaponry in specific human rights violations. Because of this record, a number of U.S.-based human rights and arms control organizations have been working to block a pending sale of U.S. attack helicopters to Ankara until such time as the Turkish government makes major, measurable improvements in its human rights performance. The country report on Turkey gives ample evidence of the need for caution in promoting major new arms transfers to Ankara at this time. The department reports "credible reports of extrajudicial killings by government authorities continued"; that "Police harass, beat, and abuse demonstrators,"; that "Arbitrary arrest and detention continue to be problems"; and it also cites evidence of potential involvement of Turkish military officials in efforts to "discredit Fazilet and HADEP parties, Human Rights Association (HRA) Chairman Akin Birdal, and several journalists." In addition, the report notes that despite a virtual cessation of activities on the part of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) guerrilla movement, four southeastern provinces remain under a state of emergency which amounts to "quasi-martial law."
The following summary paragraph from this year’s country report provides ample evidence of why human rights concerns must be taken into account with respect to any arms transfers and training efforts contemplated under Plan Colombia:
"The Government's human rights record remained poor; there were some improvements in the legal framework and in institutional mechanisms, but implementation lagged, and serious problems remain in many areas. Government security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings. Despite some prosecutions and convictions, the authorities rarely brought higher-ranking officers of the security forces and the police charged with human rights offenses to justice, and impunity remains a problem. Members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed abuses, in some instances allowing such groups to pass through roadblocks, sharing information, or providing them with supplies or ammunition. Despite increased government efforts to combat and capture members of paramilitary groups, often security forces failed to take action to prevent paramilitary attacks. Paramilitary forces find a ready support base within the military and police, as well as among local civilian elites in many areas."
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The recent death of Laurent Kabila, coupled with the ascent to power of his son Joseph Kabila, has raised hopes that peace talks can be revived and the war in the DRC might finally be brought to an end. However, in seeking to promote peace, the United States needs to take a closer look at who its allies are in the DRC conflict. Both Rwanda and Uganda were favored recipients of U.S. arms and training during the Clinton administration, and their leaders, General Paul Kagame in Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, were hailed as exemplars of a "new generation" of democratic-minded, market-oriented leaders in Africa. Apparently the Clinton administration’s phrase makers neglected to focus on the fact that neither nation is a democracy by any reasonable understanding of the term.
In Rwanda, for example, the country report notes that "the Government’s human rights record remains poor" and "citizens do not have the right to change their government." In addition, the State Department notes that "the security forces committed extrajudicial killings within the country" and that there were "many reports, some of which were credible, that Rwandan army units operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo committed deliberate extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses." National elections, which have not been held since General Kagame took power in 1994 via a vote of the National Assembly, have now been postponed until at least 2004.
In Uganda, the country report also states that "the Government’s human rights record was poor," and that "there continue to be numerous, serious problems." The report further states that "security forces used excessive force, at times resulting in death, and committed or failed to prevent some extrajudicial killings of suspected rebels and civilians." Arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and "harsh and life-threatening" conditions in Ugandan prisons are also cited as problems. Restrictions on opposition parties have in effect rendered Uganda a one-party state, which has, in the words of the State Department, "limited the citizens’ effective exercise of the right to change their government."
Given these serious human rights problems with two of the United States’ closest allies in the region, not to mention the environment of nearly non-stop war that has ravaged key regional states in recent years, the time is ripe to consider a moratorium on U.S. arms and training to the region, ideally linked to efforts to pressure other governments to follow suit, and to put resources into enforcement of embargoes on parties to the DRC conflict until such time as they cease fighting and withdraw troops from contested zones. Only then, when there has been progress towards disengagement, should assistance be considered, ideally in the form of economic aid to help with demobilization, disarmament, and the development of economic alternatives to war.
One small but important step that can and should be taken immediately is for the State Department to abide by the spirit and letter of the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct law by taking specific steps to describe whether or not U.S. arms recipients covered by the human rights report live up to the standards set out in that legislation.
Apparently the department’s position has been that since most of the human rights indicators embodied in the code are discussed in the report, they need take no additional steps. But as a person who has spent most of my adult life working on issues related to arms transfers and human rights, I can testify that this approach is woefully inadequate.
Absent information about the U.S. arms transfer and military training relationship with a given country, AND an enumeration of the key elements of the Code of Conduct with some discussion of whether a given nation is meeting those standards, it is virtually impossible to "connect the dots" to make an assessment of which nations covered by the report meet the code’s human rights and democracy criteria. What is needed to comply with the law is a specific discussion of each country’s adherence to the code criteria, along with information on the status of U.S. arms transfer and training programs targeted to that nation. The discussion need not be exhaustive, but it is well worth a paragraph or two of analysis for each country. The resulting product would be far more useful as a spur to annual discussions about how far we have come as a nation in harmonizing our arms export and military training decisions with our commitments to democracy and human rights. Given that the State Department has made great strides towards providing objective assessments of the human rights records of allies and adversaries alike, this additional bit of analysis on adherence to the criteria set out in the Code of Conduct would not be an onerous task involving additional research. It would simply involve having the experts who write up the reports draw out the comparisons between the country’s human rights performance and the standards set out in the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct law. For a modest additional effort, we could have an extremely useful tool for stimulating official discussion and policy debate on the link between U.S. arms transfers and human rights.
Thank you again for this opportunity, and I welcome any questions you may have.
1. Richard F. Grimmett, Conventional Arms transfers to Developing Nations, 1992-1999 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service), August 18, 2000, p. 74-76.
2. Conventional Arms Transfer Project, Council for a Livable World, "Arms Trade Insider #38: It's Alive," December 15, 2000.
3. For the Carter quote, see Committee on Administration, U.S. House of Representative, The Presidential Campaign, 1976, Part I: Jimmy Carter (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978), p.266-275.
4. For an analysis of the rise and fall of the Carter arms transfer restraint policy, see William D. Hartung, And Weapons for All (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), p.63-83.
5. For a succinct review of the negative consequences of runaway arms trafficking for U.S. security , see William D. hartung, "U.S. Conventional Arms transfers: Promoting Stability or Fueling Conflict?," Arms Control Today, November 1995, p.9-13.
6. "Arms and No Influence," in Lora Lumpe, editor, Arms Sales Monitor, November 27, 1994, p.1-2.
7. William D. Hartung, U.S. Weapons at War (New York: World Policy Institute, June 1995) p.1-3.
8. Project on Demilitarization and Democracy, Dictators or Democracies? - U.S. Arms Transfers to Developing Countries 1991-1994, August 1995, p.1-2; Demilitarization for Democracy, Arms Un-Control: A Recorde Year for U.S. Military Exports, April 1999, p.7; and David Lochhead and James Morrell, Arms Trade: U.S. Outsells All Others Combined (Washington, DC: Center for International Policy, November 2000) p.11-13.
9. See Friends Committee on National Legislation, "Legislative History of the Code of Conduct".
10. Summary material and quotes on the legislation are drawn from International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act of 1999, Part of HR 3194, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 106th Congress, 1st Session, Subtitle F of the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001. For a good source of background on the evolution of arms transfers code of conduct in the United States, the European Union, and internationally (the Nobel Laureates Code of Conduct organized by a commission headed by Dr. Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica), see the web site of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project of the Federation of American Scientists at www.fas.org/asmp/campaigns, and click on Code of Conduct.
11. Calculations by the author, based on a review of the write-ups in the latest State Department human rights report on the following major U.S. arms recipients: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Rwanda, Uganda, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This list of nations with significant human rights problems is not meant to be definitive, and arguments can be made about whether each and every one of the nations listed would qualify under the conditions set out in the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct; but it represents a good faith effort to make a determination by comparing the information contained in the human rights report with the standards set out in the international code.
12. John Donnelly, "Pentagon Reluctant to Isolate Indonesia," Boston Globe, September 11, 1999; Holger Jensen, "U.S. Can't Plead Innocent in East Timor Repression," Denver Rocky Mountain News, September 16, 1999; and William D. Hartung, "U.S. Must Face Its Responsibilities in Indonesia - American Weapons and Training Are Behind the Forces Bringing Terror to East Timor," Charlotte Observer, September 15, 1999.
13. On U.S. arms to Turkey, see Tamar Gabelnick, William D. Hartung, and Jennifer Washburn, Arming Repression: U.S. Arms Sales to Turkey During the Clinton Administration, a joint report of the Federation of American Scientists and the World Policy Institute, October 1999. See also U.S. Department of State, Report on Allegations of Human Rights Abuses by the Turkish Military and on the Situation in Cyprus, June 1995; and Human Rights Watch, Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey, (New York: Human Rights Watch, November 1995).
14. William D. Hartung and Briget Moix, Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War, (New York: World Policy Institute, January 2000), p.1-3.