Why is it important to stop arms sales to Sudan?
After 5 years of armed conflict, Darfur is awash with arms. The impact of these arms on the lives of ordinary people is devastating: the Sudanese government uses combat aircraft to bomb villages, destroying entire communities at once; militias armed with guns and rifles attack villages and camps killing civilians, men, women and children indiscriminately; and armed bandits attack humanitarian workers to steal supplies and vehicles. The presence of arms in Darfur even jeopardizes the work of the peacekeeping force as the multiple deadly attacks against UNAMID troops have demonstrated. According to recent human rights reports, small arms have started to flood refugee and internally displaced person’s (IDPs) camps, endangering the inhabitants and giving the government of Sudan a pretext to attack the camps or force their closure.
The issue of arms in Darfur is not new. In fact, the United Nations Security Council tried to stop arms from proliferating in the region by imposing a limited arms embargo on Darfur in 2004. This embargo, however, quickly proved insufficient as the government of Sudan kept on sending new weapons to its army and the Janjaweed militias in Darfur and the rebels kept on receiving weapons from their allies through the Chad/Sudan border.
In their last report to the Security Council in June of 2008, the Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson (UN), and Salim Ahmed Salim (African Union), confirmed that four years after the embargo was proclaimed, arms were still one of the most pressing problem in Darfur. Mr. Eliason declared that “[T]he quest for peace will always be obstructed when there is an abundance of arms. More effective efforts must be made to end the arms flow to Darfur, in accordance with the UN embargo.” This was echoed by Mr. Salim who said, “[An] issue of grave concern which requires urgent attention and action is the flow of arms into Darfur despite the existence of an arms embargo. The Security Council should look into this and should close whatever loopholes exist.”
Ongoing violence requires a continuous source of weapons, and stopping the transfer of weapons to Sudan starts to cut off that flow. By halting the transfer of arms, we will help create the conditions for peace and send a strong message to all parties to the conflict that further violence against civilians will not be tolerated. Human Rights First is pushing the Security Council to seriously enforce the existing embargo and expand it. We also are working to persuade countries to voluntarily and unilaterally suspend their arms transfers to Sudan, independently of the embargo.
Which countries sell weapons to Sudan?
According to publicly available data, over 30 countries either directly or indirectly transferred arms to the government of Sudan since 2004, the year the Darfur arms embargo was first imposed. Human Rights First’s report card, Arms Sales to Sudan, 2004-2006, analysis shows recently released a comprehensive report card that found that the top sellers since 2004 include Belarus, China, Cyprus, India, Iran, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey. These countries have voluntarily reported to official databases that they indeed sold arms to Sudan since 2004.
Along with direct sellers, other countries have been reported by Sudan as the country of origin of imported arms. These countries deserve attention and raise concern because, although they themselves have not reported selling arms to Sudan, the Darfur embargo requires states to take all possible measures to prevent arms from entering Darfur. According to Sudan’s data, some of the top producers include Egypt, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Sweden and Switzerland.
Human Rights First contacted all of the countries concerned to clarify the nature and extent of their arms transfers. Some provided explanations and some denied responsibility for the transfers, while others failed to respond at all.
Since 2004, Sudan claims to have imported weapons worth $76.3 million, $55 million of which came from China. Belarus and Russia self-reported having sold at least 45 new military aircraft to Sudan during this period. Sudan also reports that it purchased more than $25 million worth of tanks and armored combat vehicles from Belarus, China, Switzerland, Iran, Germany, India and Syria.
Click here to read the full report card.
Click here to go directly to the list of countries selling arms to Sudan.
Are countries allowed to sell arms to Sudan?
The current UN arms embargo on Darfur has unfolded in two phases. The first phase began with the passage of Security Council Resolution 1556 on July 30, 2004, which imposed an embargo on arms and related materiel on all non-governmental entities and individuals operating in Darfur. In other words, countries were not permitted to sell or transfer arms to rebels or other combatant individuals, but they are not prohibited from transferring weapons to the government’s army. With the passage of Security Council Resolution 1591 on March 29, 2005, the arms embargo was expanded to apply to all parties to the N’Djamena Ceasefire agreement and any other belligerents in Darfur. In other words, the embargo was expanded to prohibit countries from supplying arms to rebel groups, the government army, and anyone else who took up weapons in Darfur. The resolution established a Sanctions Committee that is charged with monitoring implementation of the embargo. This Committee is supposed to review the reports of the Panel of Experts who monitor the embargo and then recommend that the Security Council take action in case of violations.
The Darfur arms embargo has two aspects. First, it prohibits governments from selling weapons directly to any of the people or groups fighting in Darfur. This prohibition includes all agents of the Sudanese government operating in Darfur, including the Sudanese armed forces. Second, the embargo obligates the Government of Sudan to seek the approval of the Sanctions Committee before it transfers any weapons into Darfur and prohibits the transfer of such weapons without that prior approval.
So far the government of Sudan has consistently violated the embargo by refusing to obtain approval from the Sanctions Committee before transferring arms to Darfur. Governments transferring weapons to Khartoum-even if not intended for Darfur-cannot assure themselves that such arms won’t end up in Darfur, due to the government of Sudan’s recalcitrance. Under these circumstances, Human Rights First believes that all current arms sales to the government of Sudan violate the U.N. embargo because the weapons may well end up in Darfur.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, officially authorized by the UN Security Council with investigating crimes in Darfur, seeks the arrest of Sudan President al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) obligates States to act to prevent genocide. Under the Convention, as soon as States learn that there is a risk that genocide might be occurring, they must take all measures within their power to prevent that genocide. Human Rights First believes that the continued transfer of arms to a region where there is a credible risk of genocide-as confirmed by the ICC Prosecutor’s actions-violates the Genocide Convention. States, therefore, must stop their arms sales to Sudan if they want to comply with the Convention and avoid arming a potential genocidaire regime.
What should the international community do to stop arms flowing into Darfur?
The U.N. Security Council should take steps to improve the embargo so that it is more effective in exposing violators and stopping transfers.
How can individual countries stop arms from flooding Sudan?
Countries that continue to sell arms to Sudan should not wait for the U.N. Security Council to expand the arms embargo to all of Sudan. They can send a powerful message to Sudan by immediately announcing a voluntary suspension of their arms sales to Sudan.
Countries that are not supplying arms to Sudan should denounce arms transfers by those that do, and should seek to use their influence both privately and publicly with Sudan’s suppliers to urge them to stop arming the Bashir government.
What should the U.S. government do?
The U.S. government should bilaterally pressure other countries to stop selling arms to Sudan.
The U.S. government should take a leadership role at the U.N. by pushing for a strengthened and expanded arms embargo at the Security Council.
 The ceasefire agreement, which has since collapsed, was signed on April 8, 2004, by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement which were the two largest rebel groups operating in Darfur at the time.