Arms trade with Libya: yes-no-yes-no

Last year the potential sale of night vision equipment to Libya was debated at the highest government level in the Netherlands. Documents obtained by Campagne tegen Wapenhandel through the Dutch Freedom of Information Act reveal how human rights concerns were bought off for the sake of migration control.
Important background: in 2004 an EU arms embargo was lifted, not because colonel Khadafy had changed into a champion of human rights, but because of crucial Libyan assistance in keeping Africa’s door to Europe closed.
Thales Nederland, one of the big three Dutch arms companies, submitted a pre-licence application in March 2009 to find out whether there was a chance to get approval for a potential one million euro Libyan order of so-called third generation thermal cameras of the types Albatrossor Claire. Its stated end-use: “border control to prevent illegal immigration from Africa to Europe”.
The Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs had no problems with the deal. Over the past two years they had already granted two licences for Thales Nederland Squire portable radars (15 April 2008and 8 June 2009), reportedly for “surveillance and security aims”, further specified with the terms “military” resp. “drugs prevention”.
The ministry of Foreign Affairs assessed the political implications and in June it advised positively on all eight ethical EU arms export criteria, including on human rights. In what seems like a surprising move, then foreign minister Maxime Verhagen (Christian Democrats) overruled this positive advice, apparently because of alarming reports from Human Rights Watch on abuses of migrants by Libya.
The ministry of Economic Affairs then insisted on a new assessment, with foreign trade minister Frank Heemskerk (Labour Party) stressing the importance of migration control.
This resulted in a new decision in March 2010 when Foreign Affairs finally agreed with a Libyan deal, under the peculiar condition that Dutch diplomats in Tripoli should monitor human rights violations against migrants. Can you imagine?
Although the ministry says that in the end a deal never materialised, the whole procedure shows the weird manoeuvres made to justify arms exports in a situation when human rights are clearly at risk.
Now that Khadafy is no longer Europe’s good friend military forces – including Dutch – are out with bombers and warships to enforce an arms embargo. Maybe they had better never lifted the Libyan embargo at all.

(FS, 23 March 2011)

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