United Nations human rights expert has called on Australia to stop selling arms to the war-torn country of Mali and urged the international community to do more to stop nations from “actively producing and selling weapons” in conflict zones.
Mali has been in near-perpetual conflict for eight years. Last year, while Australia was approving the weapons sales, the UN warned that internal conflict was causing an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis” in Mali, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and putting millions of civilians at risk.
The Guardian revealed on Wednesday that the Australian government had issued 16 permits to arms manufacturers to export weapons or military technology to Mali in 2019.
The UN’s independent expert, Alioune Tine, who is currently monitoring the deteriorating human rights situation in Mali, warned last month that the multiple failures of the state – in administration, justice and security – were facilitating “mass violence with impunity” in the country.
He told the Guardian that Australia should stop exporting arms to Mali and that the distribution of arms in the region should be considered a crime against humanity. He urged the international community, including the UN Security Council and African Union, to do more to pressure those nations exporting arms to conflict zones.
“What solutions exist to stop the spread of weapons, end violence and its tragic consequences in the Sahel, which actively poses a threat to the existence of states, results in millions of deaths and precipitates humanitarian catastrophes?” Tine said.
“The international community, notably the security council of the United Nations and the African Union, must hold countries which are actively producing and selling weapons accountable, and pressure them to cease these practices in all conflict zones, including the Sahel.”
The Australian government says its export licences are only issued after thorough assessments on whether arms will be used to breach human rights or any of Australia’s international obligations. If there is an overriding risk that the weapons could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of humanitarian law, defence says it will not issue an export permit.
The department has, however, refused to say what it is exporting, to whom, and for what purpose. Requests under freedom of information law for such details have been refused.
Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Save the Children have all called for greater transparency on Australia’s arms sales.
Tine said the African Union’s Agenda 2063 seeks to put an end to the use of weapons, as well as controlling the quantity of weapons circulating in the Sahel, a massive stretch of Africa that incorporates central Mali.
“In the Sahel, the intent behind the possession of weapons and the practice of violence has never been democratic in nature,” he said.
“Today, no less than 20 million weapons circulate in the Sahel (including kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, and surface to air missiles).”
“In Libya, between 800,000 and 1 million weapons are estimated to be in circulation.” (Source: The Guardian)