The Case of Sudan

The individual case of the complex, protracted intrastate war in Sudan clearly exemplifies the terrible hazards of the global small arms market. In Sudan, the genocidal campaign of the Sudanese (Muslim) government against native Muslims living in the newly-discovered oil field lands of Darfur has been actively pursued through government-assisted militias, primarily the Janjawid. The Janjawid are able to carry out their program of mass terror, murder and intentional starvation by virtue of their wealth of small arms provisions -- Kalashnikov AK47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and jeep-mounted machine guns -- despite the UN adoption in 2001 of Article 16 of the UN International Law Commission's Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. The agreement is binding on allstates, and forbids any assistance of another state in the commission of "any internationally wrongful act." The Janjawid's atrocities clearly surpass international definition as "Internationally Wrongful Acts," and the Sudan government's claims to be uninvolved and opposed to the arbitrary and indiscriminate killing, "disappearances," systemic rapes, and torture fly in the face of heavily documented evidence of the government's supply of and government troop participation in the atrocities. [18]

In 1994, the European Union joined in an arms embargo against all non-governmental entities in Sudan in order to "promote lasting peace and reconciliation within Sudan," but the world weapons industry has continued to sell arms to the Sudanese government without restriction.[19] Given the clear evidence of the Sudan government's programmatic support of and participation in the Darfur genocide and crimes against humanity, any sale of arms to Sudan violates Article 16 of the UN International Law Commission. Every nation fully understands this, yet the world community of weapons exporters have continued to feed small arms into Sudan, fueling the Darfur genocide. In March, 2004, The UN Security Council voted 13-0-2 to demand that Sudan disarm its paramilitary militias, but issued its demand without teeth.[20] Further, small arms shipments to other East African countries from the USA and Germany, among others, is certain to bolster Sudan's stockpile of weapons. It is estimated that 85% of the personal assault weapons in Africa originate in the five countries of the UN Security Council: the USA, the UK, Russia, China, and France.[21]

Finally, only two weeks ago, the UN Security Council approved a total weapons embargo, targeted economic sanctionsagainst atrocity perpetrators, a 10,000-person peacekeeping force, and an International Criminal Court investigation and prosecution of criminals against humanity in Sudan.[22]

Principal exporters of small arms to Sudan appear to be Iran, China, France, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and the UK[23] (this tally excludes further volumes of arms sales in terms of fighter jets, helicopters, etc.). The fact that UN Security Council nations have stakes in the illegal arms supply of the Janjawid/Sudanese government genocide in Darfur (and China's strong oil-supply relationship with the Sudanese government) helps explain the Security Council's failure to act to stop the war. In November 2004, Amnesty International revealed densely documented details of the uncontrolled arms exports that have fueled massive human rights abuses in Sudan, including the killing, rape, torture and displacement of more than a million civilians since the Darfur conflict escalated in February 2003[24] after the discovery of Darfur oil deposits.

The inability (or unwillingness) of the Swiss, paragons of organization, to regulate their own export of weapons demonstrates the degree to which the weapons market is out of control. After being told by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies that Swiss small arms exports to Sudan totaled more than $4 million in 2002, the Swiss Finance Ministry promised that Switzerland would review its weapons exports. The Swiss government records reveal less than $4,000 worth of handgun exports to Sudan, to be used "for use as personal protection or sporting purposes." "Such trade would not have been approved by us," stated Ottmar Wyss, responsible for export control. "Either there is illegal export trade going on, or the numbers are wrong."[25] Reason and experience suggest that the wrong numbers are those of Mr. Wyss.

The Sudanese government estimates that "two to three million" landmines cover 32 % of the country; the original exporters of the landmines were Russia, China, the UK, Iraq, Iran, the USA, and a list of others.[26]

While Sudan's population is impoverished and has been victimized by its two decades of civil war, and although Sudan is one of the 38 "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" eligible for favorable borrowing terms, Sudan is also sitting on major oil reserves -- a resource pool that could possibly deliver economic stability and domestic freedoms to the people of Sudan. Instead, oil production is bankrolling the government's pursuit of genocide against its own people, through the purchase of small arms and other weapons, a political economic decision founded on abuse of one part of its population for the benefit of a relative few. The main foreign direct investors in Sudan are companies from China, Malaysia, and India.[27]

Halting the Global Small Arms Market

What measures might effectively govern the worldwide small arms market and reduce the likelihood of violence? Given the present prevalent system of deregulated trade and finance, and the monstrous productive capacity of a profusion of nations to produce the weapons that fuel conflict, it is hard to be sanguine about the prospects for real change. Rhetorical advocacy for peace and human rights is often a smokescreen to cover the transnational corporate "national" interests of weapons producers.

The following measures must be pursued as part of an aggressive world response to the calamity of the global small arms market system and its contributions to the Sudan civil war:

1. The UN Security Council must aggressively pursue all of its new measures against Sudan's criminal war against its own people, and apply this same standard to all conflicts.

2. The United Nations, regional interstate security unions, and individual weapon-producing nations must be aggressively and resolutely pushed to reform policy in order to reduce and govern weapons manufacture and export. The economic benefits of the global small arms market enrich a few while impoverishing the interrelated economies and lives of most of the world. Targeted financial sanctions[28] against non-compliant producers might enable this reform, if the Security Council permanent members can find the political and moral will to curtail their own weapons industries. Real change will take determination, and will not be a short-term project.

3. All weapons should be given international registry marks, so that manufacturers and countries of origin can be determined.

4. A fund should be created to pay for the purchase and destruction of small arms, initially in areas of conflict and then globally, in order to reduce the massive world stockpile of such weapons.

5. The neo-liberal system of economic globalization itself must be progressively reformed. It is time for the world to again implement regulatory governance of trade, finance, labor, environment, and community, on state and transnational bases.

This essay allows space only for an introductory analysis of the global small arms system of manufacture, export, trafficking, and use in violent conflict; and economic bases and effects of this system. Small arms, and the broader concern of all weapons production for sale, are a major piece of the conflict and peace puzzle. Weapons manufacture and traffic, and particularly that of small arms, is a beast that will require taming if the world's wildfires of violence are to be contained.

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999).