A question of principle: arms trade and human rights

A question of principle: arms trade and human rights

Adopting new policy to unify oversight of the arms trade

Paper asserts that the South African government must urgently address the inconsistencies that have emerged between its arms export policies and practices, and deny all human rights abusers its weapons, the tools with which such abuses have been committed. In particular, Human Rights Watch believes four areas need attention. To help ensure that the rights its citizens enjoy in their own country are not assaulted elsewhere in the world, South Africa should:

  • establish a statutory framework for the current system of arms export control and associated policy commitments
  • strengthen the capacity of government officials to provide human rights input into the process of decision making
  • increase the involvement of parliament and civil society in decisions relating to arms exports
  • make a greater commitment to full transparency

Recommendations to the South African Parliament

  • actively seek information on South African arms transfers from the government and nongovernmental organisations. Conduct quarterly reviews of the government arms trade based on the information thus acquired
  • create a parliamentary committee with the specific mandate to oversee and review NCACC policies and practices

Recommendations to the Government of South Africa include

  • Repeal the Armscor Act of 1968, and adopt new legislation inclusive of all the NCACC policy guidelines, principles, control measures, and mechanisms also defined in the White Paper on Defence and the subsequent White Paper on Defence Related Industries. The new legislation should include explicit provisions regarding the role of the NCACC chairperson, who should continue to be a cabinet level minister with no direct interest in the arms trade. It also should unify oversight of the arms trade under a single organisation and ensure that the customs agency is granted membership in this body
  • in the interim, strictly adhere to the principles, control measures, and mechanisms contained in the White Paper on Defence and the White Paper on Defence Related Industries
  • create an inspectorate general for defense-related industries with the clear mandate to ensure that all levels of the NCACC process are subject to independent scrutiny and are conducted strictly in accordance with the principles, policies, and guidelines of the NCACC, and the above-mentioned white papers. The inspectorate should also report regularly to the appropriate parties and parliamentary oversight bodies, as called for in the White Paper on Defence and the White Paper on Defence Related Industries, and monitor implementation of legislation (the Conventional Arms Control Bill) that, once adopted, is expected to provide a legal framework for South Africa's arms trade controls
  • ensure that any arms transfers resulting from South Africa's participation in joint licensing and co-production agreements between South African companies and foreign

Recommendations to the states of the Southern African Development Community

  • implement and enforce the Southern African Action Programme on Light Arms and Illicit Trafficking
  • finalise negotiations and adopt a Firearms Protocol to combat illicit trafficking in firearms and otherwise stem their widespread availability and misuse
  • adopt and implement strict legislation and controls on arms exports in accordance with the best available standard in the region
  • create a regional register for small arms as described above

Recommendations to the International Donor Community

  • provide funds and expertise to build capacity in southern Africa, especially with regard to the strengthening, implementation, and enforcement of arms exports laws and regulations and arms embargoes

[From the author]

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.