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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Que fait la France contre le business de la mort ?

by Luc Lamprière, Oxfam (France) Chief Executive Officer

France: No Curbs on the Death Trade

With arms exports increasing, arms control needs stepping up

Translated Tuesday 22 June 2010, by Isabelle Métral

Last week saw the first Eurosatory bazaar near Paris under the aegis of the French ministry of defence. This “world fair for land, land-air defence, and security” defines itself as “a business accelerator”. Many lucrative arms deals were no doubt struck between various states, industrialists, and arms dealers. Unfortunately, among the weapons traded these last days, some are likely to be found on battlefields tomorrow and contribute to the deaths of civilians, the displacement of populations, and to serious breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Unregulated, the arms trade is nothing else but a death trade that generates distress and poverty: 2,000 people die every day as a result of armed violence, specifically: more than one person every minute. The gigantic human cost of armed violence also results in 16 million people being severely wounded every year; 42 million people were displaced by conflicts and persecutions in 2008 - not to mention the 18 billion dollars that Africa wastes on armed conflicts every year or the yearly 12% of Latin American countries’ GDP guzzled up by armed conflicts during the 1990s.

And what is France doing about that market? In 2009 it kept up its rank as 4th arms exporter in the world with orders placed to the tune of nearly 8 billion euro, the expected total figure for 2010 being higher still. Unfortunately, the constant increase in French arms sales over the last years has not been matched by a stepping up of effective control: the annual report to Parliament on the subject remains opaque, it regularly comes out months after the set date, and is not discussed by Parliament. French law is inadequate, especially in view of our international commitments. In real fact, France continues to export weapons to countries engaged in conflicts or suspected of being responsible for serious breaches of human rights or war crimes, like Colombia, Israel or Chad, notwithstanding the lack of reliable checks on the real uses to which those weapons are put.

Government and Parliament are equally to blame for this. In view of the latest information, notably in the ministry of defence’s annual report to Parliament on France’s arms exports, neither French citizens nor their deputies and senators are actually able to check whether exports are compatible with France’s international commitments. and particularly the European Union’s common position on arms exports - despite EU positions being legally binding since December 2008. Lacking precise and regular information on the destinations, types, and volumes of equipment exported, as well as on the refusals opposed, it is indeed impossible to assess if this European commitment has been effectively observed. It is easy for industrialists and the ministry of defence to plead the necessity to preserve commercial interests. Still, other European countries, the United Kingdom among them (the UK being the world’s second arms exporter) regularly publish on line all of their exports permits and their notifications of refusal?

And anyway, French law is still inadequate and does not integrate our international commitments. Unlike 21 other EU States, France indeed has not yet taken any legal dispositions to prevent a new “Angola-gate”. A bill on the control of intermediaries has been on the deputies and senators’ shelves for several years. As long as a law to that effect has not been passed, allowing due control even of the activities of French residents abroad, a new “Angola-gate” remains possible.

France is also under the obligation to enforce the embargoes voted by the UN or the EU but it still has not transposed this obligation into its own national law: a bill on the breach of embargoes and other restrictive measures was voted by the Senate at the end of 2007 but is still waiting to be discussed by the National Assembly. Not to mention the eight criteria of the common position voted under the EU’s French presidency, which have not yet been incorporated into French law.

Clearly, France’s message to other, notably European, countries is: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

In the last annual report to Parliament, Hervé Morin, the defence minister, declared: “The beefing up of our support logistics is matched by an improvement in our control logistics. Being concerned with international stability, and attentive to the security of our forces and those of our allies, this country is scrupulously true to its commitments.”

Our minister of defence, deputies and senators should be reminded that such commitments must be followed by practical provisions: it is simply irresponsible to promote our exports so actively without at the same time reinforcing controls. Before boosting its arms sales by organizing a large bazaar, France itself should first set up controls on the arms trade to ensure observance of human rights, international humanitarian law, as well as economic and social development.

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