Letter: EU arms trade

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The Independent Online
THE Nobel laureates rightly draw attention to the need for tougher control over the arms trade (letter, 17 February). The British and French proposal for an EU Code of Conduct states that the EU has "a special responsibility to promote restraint and transparency" over arms transfers, and that it seeks to "set high common standards". This is to be applauded. No European government has previously taken such a bold initiative. However, there are certain essential standards that the Code must meet if it is to achieve these objectives; and the current proposal falls short of all that is needed.

All too often, EU states export arms to dictatorial regimes, or to regions of instability. The UK continues to arm the authoritarian regime in Indonesia; Sweden is considering selling fighter jets to Chile, despite 28 Latin American heads of state calling for an arms moratorium to avert an arms race; Germany and France are seeking to sell attack helicopters to Turkey, despite its appalling human rights record; and the Netherlands has recently licensed equipment to Algeria. In its current form, the Code could leave this unchanged.

The criteria must clearly state what the consequences of a breach of them will mean for arms exports. Tougher guidelines must be accompanied by clear multilateral consultation mechanisms. The Code should also make reference to the need for a rigorous system of parliamentary scrutiny. In a democratic Europe, parliaments, and the public, must be able to hold their governments to account for their decisions on this deadly trade.

We urge the member states to seize the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to international human rights, development and security by ensuring this initiative translates into an effective EU Code.

MIKE AARONSON, Director-General, Save the Children; BARRY COATES, Director, World Development Movement; PAUL EAVIS, Director, Saferworld; JULIAN FILOCHOWSKI, Director, CAFOD; MARTIN HONEYWELL, Associate Director, International Alert; IAN LINDEN, General Secretary, Catholic Institute for International Relations; DIANA MELROSE, Policy Director, Oxfam; DAN PLESCH, Director, BASIC; JANE WINDER, Director, One World Action

London WC1

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