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Amnesty accusations

May 24, 2012

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are the world's biggest arms exporters. Can they be expected to guarantee security? Amnesty International highlights the contradiction.

Members of the United Nations Security Council assembled for the vote to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Libya, at UN Headquarters in New York, March 12, 2012.

For Wolfgang Grenz, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Germany, the year 2011 could be summed up by the word protest. "People all over the world took to the streets and demanded a fair share of resources, democracy, and human rights," he said.

The spark of the Arab Spring even leapt as far as China and Azerbaijan, Yemen and Bahrain. But the democratic success of the movements in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have not been replicated elsewhere. "States like China have hit back with total repression. On the Internet they've even blocked terms like 'Jasmine Revolution' or 'Egypt'," says Grenz in reference to the reactions of the various governments, such as that in Azerbaijan, or in the dramatic events in Syria.

Western double standards

Europe and the United States have given verbal support to the democracy movements, fully aware that "the criticism of state oppression and bad economic conditions was justified", says Amnesty International's annual report, published on Thursday. However, it continues, "they did not want to give up their 'special relationships' with repressive regimes that promise stability in a strategically important region with large oil and gas reserves."

Jan 14, 2011: Demonstrators scatter after police officers use teargas during a protest in Tunis, Tunisia.
Pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia succeeded where others have notImage: AP

Wolfgang Grenz cites Bahrain as one example: a country "where the United States also has a geostrategic and military interest. There, Saudi Arabia was allowed to crush the protest movement. Only some of the pro-democracy movements were supported. With other countries, key states either remained silent or continued to support the oppressors by supplying them with arms."

Germany is one of these suppliers. According to press reports - which were not denied - the Federal Security Council approved the export of more than 200 state-of-the-art Leopard 2 German combat tanks to Saudi Arabia in a secret vote in the summer of 2011. The German government's arms export report states that, with an expenditure of 152 million euros, the country is tenth on the list of arms export recipients. The decision was strongly criticized both by the opposition and by the churches in Germany.

Germany big arms supplier

According to Amnesty International (AI), Germany is ranked as the seventh most important arms supplier in the world - "just ahead of China," as Wolfgang Grenz points out. He emphasizes that "those who profit most from the global arms trade are the countries with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council."

Wolfgang Grenz, Secretary General of Amnesty International Germany, speaking at a press conference
Grenz: "Those who profit most from the global arms trade are on the UN Security Council"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In 2010 around 70 percent of arms supplies originated with one of the five vetoing powers, according to the AI report. It names the biggest exporters of conventional weapons as the United States (30 percent) and Russia (23 percent), followed by France (8 percent), Britain (4 percent) and China (3 percent). "So one can understand why Russia vetoed more stringent sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council," comments the AI Secretary General Grenz. He adds: "It would be far too positive to say that the Security Council is a guarantor of human rights. However, I wouldn't condemn it outright. It's very difficult to align all the different political interests."

Regulating the arms trade

In July a UN conference will take place in New York with the aim of negotiating and approving an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This would regulate cross-border trade in conventional weapons - from pistols to fighter jets - by establishing international standards.

Warheads depicted against a map of the world
Germany is the seventh most important arms supplierImage: DW/AP

"We hope that the German government, which up till now has supported the introduction of such a treaty, will stick to its position, and that the pressure on the United States, Russia and other countries will be maintained and will be strong enough to persuade them also to agree to this treaty," Grenz told DW. Considerable pressure will be needed: the United States has already called for exceptions to be made. Among other things, Washington is demanding that only weapons should be subject to international controls, not ammunition. The United Nations wants to approve the Arms Trade Treaty on July 27.

Author: Mirjam Gehrke / cc
Editor: Nicole Goebel