Burma Top Weapons Buyer in a Decade Among Embargoed Countries

Burma is the top weapons buyer among countries under arms embargoes around the world, according to a report of the Oxfam Aid Agency issued on Thursday.

Burma bought $600 million worth of weapons between 2000 and 2010, the report said.

In the decade from 2000 to 2010, countries under arms embargoes have imported more than $2.2 billion worth of weapons, Oxfam said.

Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo are second and third on the list. Iran purchased an estimated $574 million in weapons from 2007 to 2010, and the DRC spent $124 million from 2000 to 2002, the report said.

There have been 26 UN, regional, or multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period, the report said. The United Nations is to hold talks on a new arms trade treaty in July.

Oxfam’s report, “The Devil is in the Detail,” calls for tighter global rules and says that the global trade in consumer goods such as bananas, coffee, and cocoa, is more tightly regulated than the arms trade.

Oxfam said the illegal trade reinforces the case for “robust” and legally binding laws on the sale and transfer of arms.

Oxfam arms control campaigner Anna Macdonald said that the challenge is to ensure the new treaty is really strong. It must unambiguously stop arms transfers where they would fuel conflict, poverty, or human rights abuses.

“Existing arms embargoes are far to easy to break or ignore. The lack of international regulation means that states under embargo have been importing whatever weapons they choose with impunity.” she said.

Oxfam said there is “an intricate patchwork of regional and sub-regional agreements, but this lacks structure and coherence, allowing states to continue importing and trading weapons despite the UN or other types of embargoes.”

Macdonald added, “How can the sale of bananas be more tightly controlled than the sale of machine guns? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The aid group said the proposed new arms trade treaty must block weapon transfer where there is a substantial risk they will be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian law, or undermine development.

“Our position is clear: a weak treaty would be worse than no treaty at all, as this would merely legitimise the existing flawed system,” said Macdonald.