No arms trade with repressive regimes

26 December 2011

No arms trade with repressive regimes

The government of Mark Rutte refuses to introduce an arms embargo against dictatorially-governed countries. With this refusal, the government is opting to have blood on its hands.

By Members of Parliament Jasper van Dijk (SP), Joël Voordewind (Christian Union) and Arjan El Fassed (Green Left)

Despite a majority in Parliament in favour, the government is not willing to introduce a ban on the export of arms to dictatorships. The arguments it gives for its refusal are built on sand. Apparently, commercial interests are of more importance than human rights.

The Netherlands is a major player on the arms market. Per capita, we are in third place amongst the world’s countries. As a consequence, a majority in Parliament last June expressed stern criticism of the Dutch policy on the export of armaments.

During the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa it was evident how dictatorial regimes used weapons against their own populations. Dutch weapons were involved, such as the armoured vehicles used in Bahrain and Egypt. Are there no European agreements to prevent this? And does the Netherlands adhere to these agreements?

The pictures confronting us offered an opportunity to argue for a tightening of the policy, and Parliament adopted a motion stating that the Netherlands should not grant a permit for the export of armaments to countries where human rights are abused and where no free elections are held – a completely clear line which the government could also adopt.

The motion was carried in Parliament with the support of the SP, the two centre-left parties Green Left and Labour, the Christian Union, the centrist D66 and right populist PVV. On 2nd December the government nevertheless let it be known that it would not be carrying out the motion’s demand. Its reasons included the assertion that the Netherlands had ‘in the past never imposed an arms embargo without international agreement.’ That is nonsense. Immediately after the nuclear weapons tests in 1998 Defence Minister Hans van Mierlo put a stop to armaments shipments to India and Pakistan, without there being any agreement at European level.

The government refers to the European Union criteria for the export of arms. It is, however, no problem if a member state wants to impose additional conditions before granting a permit, so on that point too the motion is perfectly capable of being carried out. Clearly it comes down to a question of political will. The government must choose between commercial interests and human rights, and if it chooses commercial interests, it will at the same time be choosing to have blood on its hands. If the government does not put the motion into practice, the risk exists that the Netherlands will once again export weapons to countries where human rights abuses occur. We are calling on the government to change its mind and adopt the motion supported by Parliament. In doing so we are giving our support to the burgeoning democracies in the Arab countries. Countries which violently suppress demonstrations, as is happening now in Egypt, must be excluded from receiving weapons.

Instead of taking steps backwards, the Netherlands must take a lead in this and call on the EU too to do the same: no trade in armaments with repressive regimes.

This article first appeared in the original Dutch on 24th December 2011 in the regional newspaper De Gelderlander.

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