The conflict between the two Sudans is slipping into full-scale war. So let's name the hypocrites who call for peace while fuelling the fighting. Incredibly, members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are among the nations who have been illegally shipping arms to the warring parties – despite the well-documented use of them to terrorise civilians. Until we have the binding treaty on the arms trade that campaigners are calling for, this cynical double-dealing by some of the world's richest countries will go on.
Inspired by the attempted genocide against the people of Darfur, the UN approved an arms embargo on Sudan in 2004 – as did the EU. But these agreements have been regularly flouted, chiefly by China, Russia and Iran. All three states have deep economic and strategic interests in the Sudans – now two countries following the South's declaration of independence last summer. As the two Sudans grapple over oil assets and disputed territory on their border, the flood of foreign weapons continues.
The bombers currently pounding civilians and military in South Kordofan, a rebellious border region in the north, are Antonovs, made and supplied by Russia. Russia also delivered a number of fighter jets in 2008. But many of the munitions those planes are dropping on South Kordofan and Darfur are Chinese. Drones and other weapons have come from Iran. All of this military hardware is used by the north in its war against the South Sudanese army – and the hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the way.
Unlike the regime in Khartoum, the UN sanctions do not mention the southern country, though the did EU extend its embargo to cover South Sudan last year. One of its suppliers, pre-independence, was Ukraine – and the United States is said to be providing military advice.
China is the worst
Work by some brave journalists and the Small Arms Survey has produced incontrovertible evidence that half a dozen countries are directly or indirectly supplying arms to Sudanese government forces (that is, the north). The weapons being pushed into Sudan include horrors such as anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs. These weapons, banned by international treaties, are particularly dangerous to civilians: they often resemble toys, and can linger in fields long after conflicts end.
Khartoum’s principal supplier of weapons is China – the two countries have enjoyed an arms-for-oil relationship for years. The motive is pretty clear: China has invested heavily in Sudan and remains the biggest buyer of Sudanese crude oil. Absurdly, China, which is also developing strong ties with South Sudan, continues to call for peace between the two countries while clearly sponsoring the war.
Since December 2011, SAF [the north's army] has fired dozens of Chinese manufactured 302mm Weishi rockets (WS-1) into the Kauda region of South Kordofan. Depending on the model, these rockets can have a maximum range of at least 100 km, and are fired from a truck-mounted, four-tube multiple rocket launch system. The rockets contain an FG-42 rocket motor with an advanced hydroxy-terminated polybutadine (HTPB) rocket propellant and a warhead filled with steel ball bearings. Locals in the area claim that these rockets have killed 18 civilians since December.
Also in the report are pictures and details of Chinese cluster-bomblets – and the deaths of two boys who picked them up.
A big game
But China is not alone. An unexploded Russian-manufactured bomb filled with cluster sub-munitions has also been documented. And anti-personnel mines, probably Iranian, have been captured by South Sudanese forces – even though Sudan is a signatory to the Ottawa treaty, which bans the use or stockpiling of such things.
The most dramatic discovery of all has been an Iranian drone, shot down but hardly damaged. Aidan Hartley, a journalist who examined it for his Channel 4 documentary on the war, found footage in its memory disk proving it had directed bombing attacks on civilians.
Parts of the drone's engine were made in Ireland and its video recorder was supplied by the UK, according to Small Arms Survey. Hartley also found Greek-manufactured Pykal mortar bomb casings in a garrison recently evacuated by the north's army.
Machine-guns easier than bananas
The sad truth is that smuggling weapons to belligerent parties in contravention of international norms and agreements is too easy. According to Oxfam, the international small arms trade is more loosely controlled than the global trade in bananas. Countries under arms embargoes, led by Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have imported more than $2.2bn worth of weapons over the past decade. Oxfam believes the illegal trade reinforces the case for “robust” and legally binding laws on the sale and transfer of arms.
Further reading: Read Oxfam’s full report on arms trade regulation, The Devil Is In The Detail.
Take action: Sign Amnesty's petition for a bullet-proof arms trade treaty.