U.N. Arms Embargoes Busted by Ships from the West

  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

But a new study released Monday says more than 60 percent of the ships involved in reported cases of sanctions-busting or illicit transfer of arms, drugs and other military equipment are owned by companies in the Western world.

The owners of the ships are primarily commercial shipping lines belonging to countries in the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), described as one of the world's leading think tanks based in Sweden, points out that sanctions-busting ships are primarily from Germany, Greece and the United States.

But the top 10 countries also include North Korea, Panama, Iran, Norway, the Russian Federation, Belize, the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan.

'This doesn't mean the ship owners, or even the captains, know what they are carrying. But it is relatively easy for traffickers to hide arms and drugs among legitimate cargoes,' said Hugh Griffiths, co- author of the SIPRI study.

Over the years, the Security Council has imposed economic sanctions and/or arms embargoes on more than 25 countries, including the former apartheid regime in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Haiti, Rwanda, Angola, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire.

According to the Security Council Sanctions Committee, the Council has resorted to mandatory sanctions as 'an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed'.

The range of sanctions has included comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions.

SIPRI says containerisation has not only revolutionised international trade, but it has also provided ideal cover for traffickers.

And of the many shipping containers that pass through the world's ports every day, only a fraction can be inspected. Ship owners and even customs officers often just have to take it on trust that what's inside the container is what it says on the cargo documents.

Asked about the need for close monitoring of arms embargoes by the United Nations, Griffiths told IPS, 'I would say that certain U.N. arms embargoes may prove more effective if member states provide greater resources and information-sharing to monitor shipments by sea.'

The Libya case, he said, is a good example because member states patrolled the Libyan coast and intercepted oil and arms shipments under a NATO taskforce umbrella.

'This really helped enforce the embargo as it related to the regime of (Libyan leader) Muammar al-Gadaffi,' he said.

However, even relatively simple measures such as enhanced information- sharing on maritime actors between U.N. member states and the U.N. sanctions apparatus do not really exist in the case of some other Africa-related arms embargoes, he pointed out.

Also, it is clear that there are varying levels of cooperation by different U.N. peacekeeping missions with the U.N. Groups of Experts monitoring embargoes for the U.N. Sanctions Committees, said Griffiths.

In other words, he said, some U.N. Groups of Experts get better cooperation with certain peacekeeping missions than others.

But mainly it is an issue of member states because they are the only ones with the resources and assets which can provide both information and inspection of vessels.

According to the report, governing maritime trade has always been challenging.

'But opportunities are being missed to improve surveillance and use existing mechanisms to crack down on trafficking,' it said.

This is an international phenomenon that requires international cooperation involving the major players in the shipping industry.

Asked about the roots of the problem, Griffiths told IPS, 'It is certainly not the fault of the U.N. Groups of Experts, nor the U.N. secretariat responsible supporting the work of the Sanctions Committees.'

These bodies, he said, do an exceptional job with what are often very limited resources.

The failure is primarily due to two reasons: firstly, the fact that many member states don't have this capacity, and secondly, there is not enough information-sharing systems - formal and informal - between U.N. member states for sharing information.

This information is primarily on ships suspected of involvement in transporting military equipment which is ultimately destined for African regions or actors under a U.N. arms embargo.

Asked whether the U.N. Security Council should name and shame these shipping companies, Griffiths said, 'That's a matter for the Security Council, but from a counter-trafficking perspective, I think it would be useful if, one way or another, certain companies were made aware of the fact that they may have inadvertently or deliberately assisted in a transport process which ultimately led to a violation of a U.N. arms embargo.'

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service