The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has confirmed South Africa has lawfully sold weapons to Libya, but declined to specify what, citing contractual commercial confidentiality. The body adds that there is no evidence to date that the deaths that have been reported in Libya during this month’s political unrest there “have a direct link with the arms sold by the South African companies…”
“In 2010 the NCACC duly authorised arms trade between South African companies operating in defence-related industry and the Republic of Libya. A number of other transactions were also considered at that time,” the NCACC said in a statement.
“Our law (section 23 of the National Conventional Arms Control Act, 41 of 2002) strikes the necessary balance between the need to be transparent and accountable, whilst at the same time it recognises and caters for confidentiality which invariably attaches to all transactions that are concluded from time to time,” the state body adds. “It is for this reason, the need to observe the confidentiality clause in these contracts, that we are not in a position to provide the details regarding the nature of and the quantities of arms sold when these contracts were concluded. It is entirely up to the parties involved in the transactions to decide on whether or not to waive confidentiality clause in respect of any contract concluded.”
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) last week wanted the NCACC to “make a public statement” on the alleged sale of 100 sniper rifles and more than 50 000 rounds of ammunition to Libya. David Maynier, the party’s shadow defence minister, has long kept a weather eye on the South African defence industry’s activities in the now-troubled country.
Maynier earlier this week in a statement said it understood the rifles and ammunition may have been exported to Libya late last year. “The company alleged to have exported the sniper rifles and ammunition not only lists Libya as a target market in Africa, but also exhibited sniper rifles at an arms fair in Libya in 2008,” he said. “We understand that the export of the sniper rifles and ammunition was authorised by the NCACC.” Maynier did not name the company, but it is known several South African companies have taken part in recent editions of the Libyan Aviation Exhibition (LAVEX) and the Libyan Defence, Safety and Security Exhibition (LIBDEX). The website of Truvelo, a manufacturer of high-accuracy rifles, notes they attended the 2008 edition of LIBDEX.
The NCACC has taken unkindly to Maynier’s attentions, saying in the opening paragraph of its 1000-word statement that “there has been yet another attempt by the official opposition party in Parliament, the Democratic Alliance (DA), to blemish the image of our government and the country before the eyes of the world. Comments made by the DA, motivated by ignorance or malice, or both, if left unchallenged could lead unsuspecting consumers of information to arrive at unfortunate conclusions.
“The DA has again tried to resuscitate matters which the NCACC has long provided clarity on and is doing so in a desperate attempt to become politically relevant and significant. The wave of political instability that has hit a number of North African and Middle East countries is seen by the DA as an opportunity to gain political mileage at the expense of our government.”
The NCACC added that at “the time when the transaction was concluded with Libya, there was no evidence available to the effect that there would be any political unrest in that country; this extends to the region (North Africa and parts of the Middle East). Similarly, there was no evidence that if political instability were to occur, that it would turn out violent in Libya or in any of the countries with which arms trade had been concluded. Some in the media or through the use of media as a platform have been quick to conclude that the deaths that have been reported in Libya during the period of political unrest have a direct link with the arms sold by the South African companies to Libya. There is no evidence available to back up such a claim.
“As a member of the International Community, we are enjoined by the Act to ensure adherence to international treaties and agreements. We have an obligation not to trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism. At the time when these transactions were concluded, there was no United Nations Security Council resolution on arms embargo against Libya or any of the other states with which we traded that are or recently have been affected by political instability. No such position had been adopted by the African Union either.
Maynier yesterday responded by saying he would be asking the Public Protector this week to probe the legality of the sales. He adds that contrary to what Radebe says, the transaction could not have complied with the guidelines and criteria set out in the Act. “The guidelines and criteria, set out in the law regulating conventional arms sales, have a high human rights standard and require that we, inter alia, ‘avoid transfers of conventional arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms’.” Radebe had said all decisions “considers in aggregate, all principles reflected in our legislation. No single principle is considered in isolation of the others.”
“We are enjoined by section 23 of the Act to ensure compliance with the annual reporting requirements to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. In a like manner there is a duty to table at the same time, the NCACC’s annual report in Parliament in the first quarter of the new calendar year accounting for business conducted in the preceding year. We are in good standing and we comply with our reporting obligations, including by presenting quarterly reports to Cabinet after the end of each quarter, the NCACC continued.
Maynier added the only way to establish “the true facts of what was sold, when, and to whom”, would be “to have immediate access to the quarterly reports produced by the NCACC.” The quarterly reports contain more detailed information than the annual reports, including the type, quantity and value of weapons being exported from South Africa. However “Parliamentary oversight of conventional arms exports has effectively collapsed.” The NCACC’s quarterly reports have been submitted to Parliament but they have never been distributed to members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans or the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. Moreover, the NCACC last appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on September 2, 2009.”
The NCACC retorted that it has “never refused to appear before any Committee of Parliament. An invitation had been extended to the Chairperson of the NCACC to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Defence on May 12, 2010. The said invitation was withdrawn minutes before it was honoured. The NCACC is ready to and remains available to appear before any Committee of Parliament to account for its affairs.
“We will make every possible contribution, as part of the International Community, to support peace efforts in areas where there is conflict. We will not, with the benefit of information obtained beforehand, authorize the sale of arms where there are grounds to believe that such arms may be used in conflict areas or by governments to commit atrocities against their own people.
“We would like to assure everybody and the International Community that South African Government will continue to conduct arms transactions in a responsible manner and in doing so will observe obligations imposed on it by both domestic and international laws.”
But Maynier disputes this, saying “the NCACC has been in administrative meltdown for years” with the Auditor-General finding last year that transactions were authorised without the required inputs from relevant government departments; delivery verification certificates and end-user certificates were often missing; and ministers who serve on the committee “did not understand and exercise their oversight responsibility relating to the issuing of permits and related controls”.
He says “it appears that the principles and guidelines, set out in the law regulating conventional arms sales, have largely been ignored, and that most arms deals are authorised unless there is an arms embargo in place by the United Nations. The bottom line is that conventional arms should never have been sold to Libya in late 2010.”
Pic: A selection of Truvelo arms as seen at Africa Aerospace & Defence 2006.