Out of Control
excerpted from the book
United States of America
- Rights for All
Amnesty International Publications,
OUT OF CONTROL: US arms and human rights abuses
US companies were the first to develop
stun guns for use against human beings and are among the world's
leading suppliers. The US government keeps export data on such
equipment secret, but in 1998 Amnesty International found leaked
government documents showing that the US Commerce Department had
licensed the export of thousands of stun guns to Indonesia in
1993, in the face of persistent reports of electro-shock torture
by Indonesian government agents.
The US government's claim to promote human
rights and freedom around the globe is undermined by its support
for armed forces known to commit human rights abuses. The USA
has supplied arms, security equipment and training to governments
and armed groups that have committed torture, political killings
and other human rights abuses in countries around the world. Oversight
by public bodies remains inadequate to the task of ensuring that
US supplies do not contribute to further human rights violations.
The USA dominates the post-Cold War global
market for arms and security equipment. It is estimated that from
1989 to 1996 the USA sold more than $117 billion of arms, about
45 per cent of the global total. Sales are often supported by
official financial assistance, military training and logistical
support programs. Successive US governments have authorized exports
to recipients with a record of human rights abuse, and have failed
to publish comprehensive and timely information on the export
of US small arms and law enforcement equipment-the most common
tools of human rights abuse.
Amnesty International believes that the
USA should adopt and rigorously enforce a Code of Conduct to regulate
all military, security and police sales and assistance to other
countries, in order to ensure that US transfers of such equipment
or expertise do not contribute to serious human rights abuses
elsewhere. It should publish more information and strengthen the
monitoring of end users. The USA should ban outright the export
of equipment solely used for executions or torture, and suspend
exports of equipment that inherently lends itself to human rights
Lack of transparency
Although successive US governments have
published more information on arms transfers than most other significant
arms exporting states, official information on the export of US
small arms and security equipment and services has been sparse
Small arms have been the principal weapons
used to commit human rights abuses in the world's many internal
armed conflicts during the 1990s, where more than 80 per cent
of casualties have been civilians, mostly women and children.
Yet there is a glaring loophole in Congressional and public scrutiny
of US small arms exports: the Arms Export Control Act requires
advanced notice to be given to Congress only for arms sales of
$14 million or more. Many small arms sales fall below this amount.
In September 1997 the US government released,
for the first time since 1981, detailed statistics on military
equipment export authorizations. This showed that US arms exports
worldwide had grown rapidly. It also showed that the USA had granted
export licences for rifles, small arms, pistols, revolvers, ammunition,
guns, grenades and riot control chemical weapons to countries
where human rights violations were severe and persistent, including
Bahrain, Bolivia, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia and Turkey.
At the time that export licences were
being granted to send 47,022 "chemical agents" and 35,844
"pistols and revolvers" to Bahrain, the US State Department
was recording that "On a regular basis, from January through
to July, the security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and,
occasionally, live ammunition to disperse gatherings during which
protestors called for the establishment of an elected parliament."
Anti-personnel mines, which have inherently
indiscriminate effects, have resulted in innumerable civilian
deaths and injuries. In 1994, the US President was the first world
leader to call for their "eventual elimination", but
the US government refused to sign the Convention on the Prohibition
of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of AntiPersonnel
Mines and on Their Destruction (the Ottawa Convention). This Convention
was signed by 122 states in Ottawa in December 1997. The governments
of China, Egypt, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia
and South Korea joined the USA in refusing to sign.
Law enforcement equipment
Exports of law enforcement equipment from
the USA include items such as handcuffs and tear-gas sprays, and
other riot control equipment, but almost no official information
is published about this trade. Some items used in the USA and
exported, such as leg-irons, thumb-cuffs, electro-shock weapons
and OC (pepper) spray, easily or inherently lend themselves to
torture, ill-treatment or excessive force. The US government has
stated that human rights considerations should be taken into account
when making licensing decisions. However, procedures to curb exports
of such equipment are grossly inadequate.
There is no requirement to provide prior
notification of proposed exports to Congress and no requirement
to publish meaningful, detailed data on a regular basis. However,
using the US Freedom of Information Act, the Federation of American
Scientists showed that from September 1991 to December 1993 the
US Commerce Department had issued over 350 export licences worth
more than $27 million for: "saps, thumbcuffs, thumb-screws,
leg-irons, shackles and handcuffs; specially designed implements
of torture [emphasis added]; strait jackets, plastic handcuffs,
police helmets and shields". These were issued for 57 countries,
many of them with poor human rights records. In addition, over
2,000 licences were issued for 105 countries under another export
category, which combined electro-shock batons and cattle prods
with shotguns and shells.
Amnesty International and the Federation
of American Scientists challenged the US government to reveal
which items had been exported to each country. The US Commerce
Department refused but, in response to letters from the public,
the US Secretary for Commerce stated that his Department had never,
nor would it ever, issue export licences for "specially designed
implements of torture". It remains unclear exactly which
items fall within this definition-at present only one item, "thumbscrews",
is listed as indicative.
Commercial confidentiality continues to
be used to justify secrecy in this area. Unpublished data leaked
from the US Commerce Department shows that electro-shock weapons
were licensed for export to several countries where Amnesty International
has documented electro-shock torture, including Argentina, Indonesia,
Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
There is no sign that the trade in electro-shock
equipment has been curbed. One investigation of US Commerce Department
documents in April 1998 found that "a dozen shipments of
stun guns and shock batons" had been approved "over
the past decade to Saudi Arabia". In 1997 a US-supplied remote
control electro-shock belt was being tested in a maximum security
prison in South Africa, a country with persistent problems of
torture and ill-treatment by members of the security forces.
The USA has also supplied electric shock
devices to Mexico despite persistent reports of electro-shock
torture. In September 1997 the Mexican "Cobra" security
force sprayed water and used electro-shock weapons against peaceful
demonstrators protesting against election fraud in Campeche.
Data on export licences issued by the
Department of Commerce does not provide a complete picture because
many transactions do not require a licence. For example, US exports
of law enforcement equipment to Turkey, like all NATO members,
are exempt. In addition, despite US law, US companies have arranged
supply outlets through third countries. According to police in
the United Kingdom (UK), a London trader supplied 200 electro-shock
batons from the USA to the Cyprus police, evading a UK ban. Other
US companies have supplied electro-shock weapons to Saudi Arabia
legally through the UK, and to Romania using illegal routes through
Paris, France, London, UK, and Luxembourg.
The USA has exported small arms and riot
control equipment, such as tear-gas, to Bolivia, although reports
of serious human rights violations have persisted. During April
1998, members of the Bolivian police, army and Mobile Patrol Unit
(UMOPAR) fired on demonstrators supporting a general strike. At
least 10 people were killed and dozens injured, including women
and children, and tear gas canisters were thrown into a school,
affecting several children.
Giving away US arms
Military aid by the USA takes many forms,
and in some countries gifts from the US government of military
and security equipment contribute to ongoing human rights abuses.
Covert supply operations
Successive US governments have conducted
covert arms supply operations, despite the human costs. Past US
covert operations, such as those in support of armed opposition
groups in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of the country
(via Pakistan), Angola (via former Zaire), and Nicaragua (via
Honduras and El Salvador), have provided weapons and training
to forces responsible for large scale human rights abuses. Small
arms have spread to surrounding countries many years after they
were originally delivered, fuelling continuing violence
Often these operations are only gradually
revealed through the work of investigative journalists and human
rights defenders. In 1997, the US government released documents
relating to the Central Intelligence Agency's role in training
the Honduran security force responsible for acts of torture, including
rape, and the "disappearances" of over 100 suspected
opponents of the government. A senior Honduran training officer
claimed in 1995: "The Americans brought the equipment. They
gave the training." The US government also acknowledged paying
informants known to be responsible for human rights violations
Since 1990 the US government has given
away more than $8 billion worth of "surplus" equipment
from US military stocks, including 4,000 heavy tanks, 500 bombers
and 200,000 light arms. Recipients in 1996 included Bahrain, Colombia,
Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Peru, and Turkey.
The US President also has "emergency
drawdown" authority to hand over US weapons. This authority
has been used to provide substantial military aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina
and Jordan, as well as helicopters to Colombia, Israel and Mexico.
The Israeli Defense Force used US-supplied
helicopters to carry out unlawful and indiscriminate killings
of civilians in Lebanon during its 1996 operation "Grapes
of Wrath". The Colombian and Mexican armed forces have reportedly
used helicopters in support of counterinsurgency operations. Serious
human rights violations have been committed against civilians
during such operations.
Counter-narcotics programs have emerged
as a major and growing area of US military assistance. The US
Congress approved $230 million of counter-narcotics aid for 1998,
mainly for South American countries. Much of this aid is in the
form of a wide range of lethal weaponry. Some has been given to
governments whose armed forces have been responsible for gross
human rights violations.
What type of training?
Thousands of foreign military officers
are trained in the USA every year and US armed forces conduct
training programs and joint exercises around the globe.
The School of the Americas (SOA), located
in Fort Benning, Georgia, is the best known US training facility,
but it is only one of more than 150 centres in the USA and abroad
where foreign officers are trained. A number of SOA "alumni"
have been implicated in gross human rights violations. US officials
maintain that current trainees are vetted to exclude human rights
violators and that courses now include human rights training.
Mexican military officers recently trained
by the USA have been accused of gross human rights violations.
For example, members of a counter-insurgency force set up in 1994
and known as GAFE (AirMobile Special Forces Group) were in military
custody at the time of writing, accused of killing one man and
torturing several others in San Juan de Ocotan, Jalisco state,
in December 1997. GAFE officers have been trained by the US 7th
Special Forces group in Fort Bragg, North Carolina; their training
reportedly included helicopter assault tactics, explosives, rural
and urban warfare. During 1997, 328 Mexican army officers were
trained there and subsequently assigned to GAFE units.
The US government has acknowledged that
parts of seven Spanish language training manuals prepared and
used by US officials as recently as 1991 encouraged the use of
murder, coercion and ill-treatment. Other similarly disturbing
manuals have also come to light. US officials refused to discipline
those responsible for producing these manuals on the grounds that
there was no "deliberate attempt to violate" US policy.
More than 100,000 foreign military personnel
from over 100 countries have received training under the International
Military and Education Training (IMET) program since it was established
in 1976. Even more are trained under the Foreign Military Sales
program. IMET for Indonesia was cut after the 1991 Indonesian
army massacre in East Timor. In 1995, Congress agreed an IMET
program for Indonesia limited to training in human rights and
civilian control. However, in March 1998 leaked official documents
revealed that the US government had secretly used another little-known
program - Joint Combined Exchange and Training- to train the Indonesian
army, including its notorious special forces command (Kopassus).
Training included close quarters combat, sniper techniques, demolitions,
psychological operations and urban operations. US combat troops
were involved in at least 41 such exercises between 1992 and 1997,
and 20 more were scheduled for 1998, despite continued reports
of human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces
Several US companies with close links
to the US Department of Defense are now offering military training
and other services that used to be provided only by governments.
For instance, a US company has received a substantial contract
to help train and organize the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Saudi Arabia numerous US companies are training every branch
of the armed forces. In 1998, one US company had over 1,000 employees
in Saudi Arabia, mostly former US army and special forces personnel,
to "modernize" the National Guard, a force responsible
for internal security." In October 1997 another US company
describing itself as a "defense contractor" sent about
500 retired US special force personnel to the Cabinda enclave
of Angola, where civilians are engulfed in a prolonged armed conflict
and serious human rights abuses. Sometimes, both US government
and private military contractors have provided training and other
support for foreign armed forces whose members are committing
human rights abuses. This was the case for example in Rwanda from
1996 to 1998; Amnesty International has sought clarification of
the US role there.
Several US laws regulate the international
transfer of military and security equipment and expertise. Under
the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department (Bureau of Political
and Military Affairs) must approve all foreign weapons sales.
Under the Export Administration Act, all exports of dual (civil-military)
use equipment and technologies, and law enforcement equipment,
are controlled by the Commerce Department. Human rights concerns,
regional stability, non-proliferation and other issues are considered,
along with the potential impact on the US arms industry. Decisions
are generally made on a case-by-case basis, and in mid-1998, 24
countries were under some form of US arms embargo including Afghanistan,
Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia (light arms prohibited).
Under Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance
Act, the US is required to cut off all security assistance to
any government which "engages in a consistent pattern of
gross violations of internationally recognized human rights"
unless the US President deems that there are "extraordinary
circumstances". However, Section 502B has never been used
to cut off such aid. Likewise, the US Congress has never formally
blocked a sale proposed by the US executive branch, although a
few sales have been delayed, modified or withdrawn.
Both the US Commerce and State Departments
are meant to run programs to verify that sales are going to declared
buyers and are being used for legitimate purposes. According to
the State Department, foreign governments receiving arms and security
equipment from the USA commit themselves to use it "solely
for internal security, for legitimate defence, for participation
in regional or collective (defense) arrangements or for measures
consistent with the Charter of the United Nations". However,
information is rarely made public on end-uses which violate international
human rights standards and international humanitarian law. Even
less is revealed about the activities of private US arms brokers
and private military training firms even though they are required
under US law to register with the US State Department.
All arms brokers and private military
training firms are required under US law to register with the
US State Department and both the US Commerce and State Departments
run programs to verify that sales are going to declared buyers
and are being used for legitimate purposes. However, insufficient
information is publicized to allow full scrutiny by Congress or
Recently, the US Congress adopted a new
provision known as the Leahy Amendment. This prohibits the USA
from providing most forms of security assistance to any military
or police unit when there is "credible evidence" that
members of the unit are committing gross human rights violations.
Assistance can resume if the government in question takes "effective
measures" to bring the responsible individuals to justice.
How effective this new provision will prove remains to be seen,
but it is currently undermined by inadequate end-use monitoring.
In today's global markets the most effective
way to ensure that international arms transfers do not contribute
to human rights violations is by international agreement. Since
the USA is by far the largest supplier, it has a duty to provide
On 30 May 1997, Amnesty International
joined 14 other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in proposing an International
Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, and the European Union adopted
a code of conduct on arms exports in June 1998.
The US House of Representatives passed
a proposed national Code of Conduct to regulate conventional arms
transfers in 1997, but it has not yet been adopted by the full
Congress and has faced opposition from the US arms industry. Under
the proposed US Code, weapons can be transferred only to states
which meet criteria in four areas: human rights conduct; non-aggression;
democratic government; and full participation in the UN Register
of Conventional Arms. The proposed Code gives the US President
responsibility to seek international agreements to secure arms
control using the same criteria. A weakness of the proposed Code
was that it allowed the President to waive its provisions if required
by national security or emergency, even though Congress may overrule
the President. Another weakness was that it covered conventional
arms and international military training, but not law enforcement
equipment or training.
In order to reinforce the USA's stated
commitment not to contribute to human rights abuses in other countries
through the supply of military, security and police equipment
or expertise, certain immediate changes are necessary in US law
and its implementation. Particularly in light of its prominent
role in the global arms market, the US government should:
1. Provide clear, detailed, regular and
comprehensive information about all prospective and completed
transfers of arms and security equipment, technology, expertise,
training and services by both private companies and government
agencies. All companies involved in such transfers to foreign
customers using third countries should be publicly registered
with a US agency and subject to the same rules as those that govern
all transfers from the USA.
2. Adopt a binding Code of Conduct, based
on international humanitarian law and international human rights
standards, to monitor and control all US transfers of military,
security and police equipment, services and expertise. All proposed
transfers, including those brokered through third countries and
those involving licensed production arrangements in other countries,
should require prior public scrutiny and approval. If there is
good reason to assume that a transfer will contribute to human
rights abuses or breaches of international humanitarian law, it
should not be approved.
3. Strengthen the capacity to monitor
the end uses of US transfers of military, security and police
equipment, services and expertise in order to ensure that if such
transfers are subsequently used to facilitate human rights abuses
or breaches of humanitarian law, further supplies of such transfers
can be stopped. All end-use certificates should require recipients
to undertake in advance not to use the transfers for human rights
abuses or breaches of international humanitarian law; failing
this the contracts for the supply of those types of transfers
can be rendered null and void and further equipment, spare parts,
training and repair services halted.
4. Prohibit the manufacture and export
of equipment solely used for executions or for torture or cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment (including remote control electro-shock
Suspend the manufacture, use and export
of any type of equipment where credible evidence has shown that
it may inherently lend itself to human rights abuse, pending the
outcome of a rigorous, independent and impartial inquiry into
the use and effects of that type of equipment.
Promote the inclusion of the above provisions
in international binding agreements. Sign and encourage ratification
of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling,
Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction
(the Ottawa Convention).
States of America - Rights for All