Disarmament lobby attacks defence industry

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Ceasefire Campaign, the disarmament lobby group, says half of South Africa’s defence exports in the past decade went to some 58 countries that failed to meet at least one of the criteria required by the National Conventional Arms Control Act. Of these, sales worth R13.2 billion, or about 60%, comprised “sensitive weapons” such as antitank missiles.

India tops this category of buyers, with purchases of R3.2 billion between 2000 and last year, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Algeria, Colombia and Saudi Arabia, the lobby group say in a statement. The group also opposes sales to Brazil and China.

The lobby adds that SA’s defence industry exported equipment worth R26.1 billion that did meet NCAC Act criteria, with the US, Britain, Sweden, Germany and Spain among the top buyers. The Act forbids the export of arms to human rights violators, including countries involved in a regional conflict and those subject to a United Nations (UN) embargo.

Speaking at a press in Johannesburg yesterday, Ceasefire Campaign steering committee member Rob Thomson said “Arms are not potatoes. The reason we have an Act is because they can’t be sold like potatoes.” Speaking about India, the UAE, Algeria, Colombia and Saudi Arabia that reportedly do not satisfy the criteria set out in the Act, Thomson says “We should not be selling arms to them in the first place, let alone having them as our major recipients.”

The criteria in the act includes if the countries have embargoes against them, if they are violating human rights, if they are involved in regional conflicts and what type of export controls they have.
“Each of these criteria is there for a good reason, so either we are fuelling local conflict, systematic human rights abuses or skewed government expenditure,” he said. However, SA’s arms industry could not compete with more established exporters like the US, and therefore could not be too picky about clients, avered Thomson. “The only countries we can sell to are those nobody else wants to export to.”

South Africa sold R1.883 billion worth of sensitive weapon equipment to India, R1.419 billion to the United Arab Emirates and R1.121 billion to Algeria. Colombia received R1.085 billion worth of equipment, while Nigeria got R84 million of equipment. “We are selling more arms to the worst countries than to countries that pass the criteria. “More than half of the arms to these failing countries are significant sensitive equipment,” said Thomson.
“In general, the [National Conventional Arms Control] committee (NCACC) has not even attempted to apply those criteria and is in gross dereliction of its duty to do so”. Thomson also criticised South Africa’s arms exports to India, China and Brazil saying they were motivated by not rocking the boat when it came to trade and other agreements between the countries. “We don’t want to put India, Brazil or China out… We shouldn’t be selling to these countries.”

Ceasefire’s figures show SA exported arms to African countries including Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Ceasefire’s figures had no listing of sales to Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Myanmar, countries Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier has said he has been told SA has sold arms to.

Thomson said the Ceasefire Campaign’s database on arms exports was made up of information gleaned from the Bonn International Centre for Conversion, parastatal Denel, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons, the South African Press Association added.

South African History Archive (SAHA) Freedom of Information Programme Officer Gabriella Razzano outlined the protracted battle it took to get the annual reports of the NCACC added to this list of sources. She said the SAHA and Ceasefire Campaign had sought to access the reports since 2006 but were met with endless delays and sometimes no responses at all from the NCACC. “The path of the requests was a frustrating one” she said. Eyewitness News adds the groups have now run out of money in their bid to use the courts to force Parliament’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee to release its annual reports.
“Exasperated and fearful of the cost implications of going to court, SAHA and Ceasefire decided to settle on what had been released informally out of court,” she said, adding this still left the organisations with “significant questions that their silence fails to answer”. “What are they concealing?”

Thomson said the actual information they got from the annual reports for 2000 to 2009 – once released – was “bland… as if there are no issues [while] in an area like this there must be problems.

Even the minimum information is not there,” he said.

Business Day adds Ceasefire blamed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans for failing to get accountability from the committee, chaired by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe. “It is evident that a culture of secrecy, or at least bureaucratic resistance to transparency, reigns within the offices of the committee,” Thomson added.

Radebe’s spokesman, Tlali Tlali could not immediately respond to the charges.



Pic: A worker assembling a Denel Dynamics Ingwe antitank missile, a major SA export success.