No end to violence in Darfur: Arms supplies continue despite ongoing human rights violations

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We first heard sounds of ‘hababil’ (helicopters) getting closer, and we saw them and some planes flying over the village. First they flew over the village without shooting or bombing. Then they came back from the eastern side and started the attack. Displaced Zaghawa civilian, 2011

The supply of various types of weapons, munitions and related equipment to Sudan in recent years, by the governments of Belarus, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, have allowed the Sudanese authorities to use their army, paramilitary forces, and government-backed militias to carry out grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan. This ongoing flow of new arms to Darfur has sustained a brutal nine-year conflict which shows little sign of resolution.

In the last twelve months, as other developments in Sudan overshadowed international attention on Darfur, the region has seen a new wave of fighting between armed opposition groups and government forces, including government-backed militias. The fighting has shifted during 2011 away from former epicentres of the war near the border with Chad and elsewhere, to eastern Darfur in particular.
This has included targeted and ethnically motivated attacks on civilian settlements, and indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombings that have contributed to the displacement of an estimated 70,000 people from their homes and villages.

This briefing describes some of these events; the types of arms in use by those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law; and the suppliers of those arms to Sudan. These arms have in some cases been supplied to Sudan barely 12 months before their use in Darfur.

Critically, this briefing shows that the governments whose exported military equipment have over the years turned up at the site of serious human rights violations in Darfur -- including Belarus, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation -- continue to supply those kinds of equipment to Sudan on a regular basis. The main ‘suite’ of arms used in Darfur by all parties to the conflict has been supplied to Sudan by this key group of state suppliers almost every year since the UN Security Council (UN SC) imposed an UN arms embargo on Darfur on 30 July 2004: an embargo which “remains without discernible impact”, in the words of the UN body charged with monitoring it. 1 Such arms supplies have continued despite concrete evidence, repeatedly presented over the last five years by UN bodies and non-governmental organizations, that the arms are rapidly being transferred to parties to the conflict in Darfur.

The case of Darfur shows unambiguously that existing international legal regimes to prevent weapons, munitions and related equipment from contributing to crimes under international law are not working, as Amnesty International has repeatedly documented. In the absence of an effective UN arms embargo on the whole of Sudan and a system of strict national controls amongst arms suppliers across the globe under an Arms Trade Treaty, states -- including permanent members of the UN SC -- can simply close their eyes to overwhelming evidence of the repeated use of their exported arms in serious human rights violations and crimes under international law. They can also ignore evidence that their customers continue flagrantly to violate UN arms embargoes with these arms. The case of Darfur further demonstrates that it is ineffective to put in place an arms embargo on only part of a country and allow arms to be transferred to one of the parties to the conflict whom it is known will invariably transfer some of those arms to the conflict area under embargo, thereby fuelling further grave violations of international law.