Necessary to ban arms exports to dictatorships

Sweden exports weapons to countries that oppress women and LGBTQ people; countries that seriously violate human rights. Why do we trust these governments enough to supply them with munitions? It is time to put an end to arms exports that undermine the pursuit of freedom and democracy, writes Linda Åkerström from the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Association.

Supporting democracy fighters and at the same time allowing the export of munitions to dictatorships is one of the clearest goal conflicts in Swedish politics. Arms exports create a lack of coherence and are a policy area that is largely allowed to stand outside human rights positions.

The risk assessments made in arms exports look completely different compared to those made in, for example, development assistance. The requirements for evaluating and reporting results are also widely differing. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the aid is motivated by the consequences of the aid for the vulnerable people it aims to support. In development aid, for example, we are fully aware that financial support for an oppressive state often does not benefit the people who are oppressed by that state. Countries are also evaluated continuously. One example was when Sweden in 2014 suspended aid to Uganda after the Ugandan state decided on new laws with harsh prison sentences for homosexuals.

Arms exports, on the other hand, are motivated by the benefits it is considered to give Sweden. This primarily applies to the Armed Forces' supply of materiel now and in the future. What the export leads to in the buyer countries or in the countries where the equipment is used is not in focus.

Follow-up deliveries may continue despite armed conflict

During Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's visit to Saudi Arabia in the autumn of 2016, he was asked how he sees Sweden selling arms systems to Saudi Arabia that may have been used in the war in Yemen, where many sources believe that war crimes have been committed.

"Exactly what has happened in Yemen, what weapons have been there, I can not answer that", said Löfven.

During the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Minister of Trade Ewa Björling (M) had to answer questions about the export of ammunition, among other things.

"Regarding the United States using the ammunition in Iraq, I want to say that once an export permit has been granted and delivery has taken place from Sweden to the recipient country, it is up to the recipient to assess how the equipment is used.", declared the Minister of Trade.

Through far-reaching arms trade agreements, Sweden can be linked to the buyer states for decades. The agreements apply in principle regardless of the buyer state's behavior, and so-called consequential deliveries may continue even if, for example, the country ends up in armed conflict or if political power is taken over by force. When India carried out nuclear test explosions in 1989, Sweden terminated the framework agreement for development assistance with the country. However, the test explosions did not affect the tests carried out on arms exports.

Arms exports - an exception?

In it Policy framework for development cooperation As the government recently launched, it is stated that feminist foreign policy entails an increase in ambition for gender equality work in development aid. According to the Swedish Inspectorate for Strategic Products, ISP, which is responsible for making assessments of Swedish export control of munitions, however, feminist foreign policy is not something that affects the agency's assessments. The ISP believes that they have not received any political signals that this aspect should be considered, despite the fact that the Arms Act states that arms exports must not be in conflict with Swedish foreign policy. The authority approves the export of munitions to a number of countries with state-sanctioned repression against the female population.

The police framework also emphasizes the importance of the analyzes that are made paying special attention to the special vulnerability of LGBTQ people. RFSL has been involved and developed country information to Sida to work with the rights of LGBTQ people. It says, among other things, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman - all countries to which Sweden exports munitions. In all of these countries, homosexuality is criminalized. Regarding Saudi Arabia, RFSL writes: “Sexual contact between people of the same sex is forbidden and punishable by whipping or the death penalty, usually by beheading or hanging. Transvestism is also prohibited under Sharia law and punished with whipping. " Even in the United Arab Emirates, homosexuality can be punished with death. How would the military in these countries act if protests erupted for the right of LGBTQ people to love whoever they want? Why do we trust these governments enough to supply them with munitions? Sida's country information should also guide the risk assessments for arms exports.

Armaments exports can legitimize oppression

A strong military power is often a tool for undemocratic regimes to retain their power and suppress demands for freedom and democracy. It can also be used against one's own population, or populations in other countries, when demanding reforms. Armaments exports can legitimize repression - an aspect that was brought to the attention of, among others, the Parliamentary Armaments Export Review Committee, Kex, which proposed the introduction of a democracy criterion for arms exports. The question is being prepared in this now at the Government Offices.

We ask ourselves why political positions regarding human rights are so seldom reflected in the assessments of arms exports. It is as if this trade, despite the great risks it entails for the work of human rights, is allowed to exist in a parallel political space. Swedish arms exports cannot continue to undermine the pursuit of democracy and human rights. The introduction of a regulatory framework that in practice stops arms exports to dictatorships and other countries that seriously violate human rights is an important and necessary step.

Linda Åkerström

In the book “The Swedish arms export”, written by the author of the article, the unresolved goal conflicts that arms exports entail for Swedish foreign policy are described and discussed. The book was published in December 2016 by Leopard publishing house.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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