Merchants of Death
In the last decade and a half, ruthless arms brokers have been at the center of many of the most disturbing arms deals, including weapons transfers to abusive armed groups and countries under U.N. arms embargoes. In a typical example, arms brokers purportedly organized a shipment of 3,117 surplus assault rifles from Nicaragua to Panama, but in fact were diverted to Colombia’s paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). At the time, the AUC was accused of <strong>killing thousands of civilians and was on the U.S. Department of State list of terrorist organizations</strong>. Yet, many arms brokers, including those involved in the above and other illegal deals, remain free and unhindered, and continue to traffic arms to human rights abusers.
Non-existent or Weak Laws
Addressing the threat of these globetrotting brokers, the U.S. government adopted a tough law on arms brokering in 1996. The U.S. law, for example, covers a wide range of brokering activities, including transporting and financing. It requires arms brokers to both register as an arms broker and to apply for a license for each brokering activity. It also regulates arms brokering activity of any U.S. person engaging in activities at home or abroad, and also of foreigners located in the United States or otherwise subject to U.S. jurisdiction who undertake brokering.
This law, however, will not be fully effective until other governments adopt similar laws. The major problem lies in the U.S. government’s inability to effectively investigate and extradite individuals in foreign countries that violate U.S. law. Since the adoption of the law, the United States has only prosecuted five individuals under the U.S. arms brokering law. In an example of the importance of an arms brokering law, the U.S. government used this law among others to prosecute a British citizen, Hemant Lakhani, for attempting to sell shoulder-fired missiles in the United States to a group Lakhani thought would use the missiles to shoot down a commercial airliner. In September 2005, U.S. courts sentenced Lakhani to 47 years in prison for his illegal arms brokering activities among other items.
Strong Global Agreement on Arms Brokering
- all arms brokers operating in a country’s territory be registered and licensed for each arms transaction.
- It should require governments to regulate and control brokering activities –including transporting and financing – outside their territory by its citizens or its residents.
- An international agreement must also establish when governments should prevent arms brokering activity, such as transfers to governments and groups with consistent records of gross human rights violations.
Such an agreement, adopted and strictly enforced, could go a long way to stemming gross human rights abuses fueled by ruthless arms brokers.