Arms trade: Business before human rights?

Al Jazeera reports: Earlier this year, as mass popular uprisings spread through the Middle East and audiences across the world sat transfixed by images of unarmed citizens confronting iron-fisted security forces in the streets of Arab capitals, powerful governments from Russia to the United States were forced to begin accounting for the weapons they had for decades sold to the very rulers they now found themselves abandoning.

In Egypt and Bahrain, protesters held up tear gas canisters stamped “Made in USA”, giving longstanding US support for autocratic Arab regimes a painful physical manifestation.

But the United States has not been the only culprit. Egyptian riot police fired shotgun shells made in Italy, and Libyan special forces wielded Belgian assault rifles. Bulgaria has led weapons sales to Yemen, and Russia likely supplies a huge amount of Syria’s armoury.

According to a report released on Wednesday by London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International, in the five years preceding the Arab Spring, a host of at least 20 governments – including Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Serbia, Switzerland and South Korea – sold more than $2.4 billion worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment to the the five countries that have faced – and violently combated – popular uprisings: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

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