SA selling arms to 'dodgy' states

Johannesburg - South Africa has sold R13.2bn worth of highly dangerous weapons to "problematic" countries in the past decade, the Ceasefire Campaign said on Tuesday.

"Arms are not potatoes. The reason we have an act is because they can't be sold like potatoes," said Ceasefire Campaign steering committee member Rob Thomson at a media conference in central Johannesburg.

Five of South Africa's top ten arms purchasers - India, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Colombia and Saudi Arabia - do not satisfy the criteria set out in the National Conventional Arms Control Act.

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.

"We should not be selling arms to them in the first place, let alone having them as our major recipients," said Thomson.

According to the Ceasefire Campaign's database, between 2000 and 2009, South Africa had sold weapon equipment to 58 countries that failed on at least one of the criteria.

Of the R13.2bn of arms sold to the countries 60% comprised of sensitive weapons, said Thomson.

South Africa sold R1.883bn worth of sensitive weapon equipment to India, R1.419bn to the United Arab Emirates and R1.121bn to Algeria.

More to worst countries

Colombia received R1.085bn worth of equipment, while Nigeria got R84m 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 committee 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."

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.

Endless delays

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 National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NACC) 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 NACC.

"The path of the requests was a frustrating one" she said.

"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.

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