Politics: Charities highlight loopholes in EU's 'ethical' arms code

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The Independent Online
A LEAKED copy of the European Union's new "ethical"arms-dealing code thrashed out between Britain and France reveals loopholes which will allow exports to repressive regimes to continue, a group of charities claimed last night.

They said the code, which is meant to parallel Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy, would not stop arms brokers in Europe from transferring weapons from one Third World country to another. The Foreign Office put up a robust defence of the draft code, saying that it regarded it as a major step forward.

A joint statement from Oxfam, Amnesty International, Saferworld and Basic, the British American Security Information Council, said the new guidelines were not tough enough to guard against human rights abuses.

Governments export to repressive regimes providing the equipment was for the protection of their security forces; there was no parliamentary scrutiny of the procedures and there was nothing to stop arms shipments from being diverted to war zones, the charities said.

Although plans to secure an agreement during the British presidency of the EU were welcome, there were many shortcomings, they said. "The proposed code states that it is the duty of member states to promote transparency and mention is made of the need to harmonise export licensing procedures, but there are no measures included to ensure that these aims are realised. These are serious omissions which threaten to undermine the efficacy of the code," they said.

A central part of the code demands that if one EU country hopes to win a contract that another has refused on ethical grounds, it must inform its partner of what it is doing. But because the code does not put a time-scale on the transfer of information a member state could unwittingly grant a licence which another had turned down, the group said.

The code says export licences should be refused if they might interfere with human rights and fundamental freedoms in the recipient country. EU countries should not allow exports which would prolong or aggravate existing armed conflicts, or which could be used other than for the legitimate defence and security needs of the recipient country. It begins, though, with a preliminary statement which says: "EU member states are committed to the maintenance of a strong defence industry which is a strategic part of their industrial base as well as their defence effort. They recognise that defence exports can contribute to international stability."

The agreement is significant because the EU has a 40 per cent share of the world's arms market. Britain has the world's second largest arms trade after the United States, with France also a major player.

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