At the June 1991 European Council meeting in Luxemburg, all EC member states agreed common criteria governing arms exports from the Community. Governments accepted that a prime consideration in permitting arms transfers should be the human rights record of the country weapons were destined for. Despite public support, the Twelve have failed to develop a common interpretation of this basic criterion. The result is confused and ineffective action: Portugal has a self-imposed ban on arms exports to Indonesia, while the UK continues to hold on to its share of a lucrative market.
That Indonesia practises widespread abuse of human rights is beyond dispute - not a matter for flexible interpretation. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Indonesian human rights organisation Tapol have catalogued the continuing propensity of the Suharto regime to impose its will on Indonesian and East Timorese civilians in whatever bloody and violent manner it chooses.
It is time the UK and other EC member governments took more seriously their stated commitments to closer co-ordination of arms export policies that take proper account of how potential customer governments treat their subjects. The European Council meeting in Copenhagen later this month offers EC politicians a chance to show principled leadership over this matter.
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