Letter: EU arms exports code

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The Independent Online
Sir: European foreign ministers meet in Brussels today to finalise key elements of the EU Code of Conduct on arms exports. Amendments still have to be made if it is to have a significant impact on the flow of arms from Europe to regions of conflict and regimes that abuse human rights.

We urge governments to remind themselves that by agreeing the toughest code possible, they have the opportunity to help prevent great human suffering. The European Union accounts for 40 per cent of all arms exports to the developing world. Recent reports of the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Indonesia - one of the main recipients of arms from Europe - are a stark reminder of the need for tougher guidelines governing exports to countries that abuse human rights.

More rigorous consultations between countries, to prevent one from granting an export licence which another has refused, are also essential. Furthermore, the code should include improved measures for transparency and parliamentary scrutiny so that the public can effectively monitor weapons sales.

A strong European Code will also be an essential building block for the establishment of an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers such as the one we Nobel peace laureates have written. First proposed in 1995 by Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, our initiative establishes clear moral guidelines that all nations, rich and poor, must uphold when considering arms transfers. While the day may not have arrived for global approval of our International Code, the European Union has the opportunity now to demonstrate its moral leadership on the world stage.

Dr OSCAR ARIAS

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1987 (former president of Costa Rica)

DONALD GANN

Chairperson, American Friends Service Committee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1947)

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1996 (National Council of Maubere Resistance)

Professor JOSEPH ROTBLAT

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1995 (Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of London)

Archbishop DESMOND TUTU

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1984 (Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

PATTI WHALEY

Deputy Secretary General for Amnesty International (Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1977)

BETTY WILLIAMS

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1976 (Northern Ireland Peace People)

London WC1

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