11 August 2011

Libya: Weapons Transfers - the French and Qatar Connections


Arms controls continue to be flouted in the context of the Libyan armed conflict. Both France and Qatar have openly admitted to supplying arms to the rebels as a complementary strategy to the NATO-led air strikes. Such actions not only undermine the United Nations arms embargo regime, but may also violate contractual obligations between arms-exporting and arms-importing states.

When arms are officially exported from one government to another, the recipient government is usually required to endorse an end-user certificate. This is a written commitment from the arms-purchasing government that it will not transfer the arms to other parties, especially if such a transfer is in violation of a UN arms embargo. However, there is no international end-user monitoring and enforcement process in place. Monitoring is the sole preserve of the exporting state, but such monitoring is typically under-developed, with the US 'Blue Lantern' programme being the most advanced.

Qatar's arming of the Libyan rebels is particularly problematic as Qatar imports the vast majority of its arms, and hence would have been required to endorse end-user certificates. Over the past five years Qatar's main arms supplier has been the United States (in monetary terms), but it has also imported arms from many other states, such as France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa. The key question to be asked is, to what extent has Qatar reneged on end-user agreements?

It was recently alleged in a Swiss television exposé that Swiss ammunition, which had been bought by Qatar, was re-exported to the Libyan rebels in contravention of the end-user certificate. Amateur video footage of Libyan rebels in Benghazi screened on the Rayyisse news website on 31 July 2011 showed what appeared to be a South African-manufactured Ratel (armed personnel carrier) sporting a Qatari flag being used the rebels. It is unclear how such a vehicle got into the hands of the rebels, as the South African government has not publicly reported the export of such military vehicles to Qatar.

There are two possible scenarios: either the armed personnel carrier was clandestinely shipped to Qatar from South Africa; or Qatar sourced the military vehicle from another state (which is the more probable scenario). Governments with recorded holdings of Ratels include Djibouti, Ghana, Jordan, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal. If Qatar had sourced the armed personnel carrier from one of these governments, then it is possible that there was an infringement of a South African end-user agreement. The extent of Qatari re-export of arms sourced from other states to Libya remains unknown at this point in time.

France is a major producer of arms, and is likely to have supplied the Libyan rebels with domestically produced arms. However, France has also imported arms from a range of other states, including Austria, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US. Should France's military support continue it is possible that another state's arms may be used in the Libyan conflict.

The response of states to the actions of France and Qatar have been mixed. France has been criticised by China, Russia and the African Union, and some states have suspended arms sales to Qatar. Many other states have not made any official statement or taken any diplomatic action. Surprisingly, South Africa, which has been highly critical of the NATO-led military campaign and has repeatedly argued that it is a responsible arms exporter, has been silent on the French and Qatar connections. In addition, there has been no statement on the status of current and future South African arms exports to France and Qatar.

Guy Lamb, Senior Research Fellow, Arms Management Programme, ISS Cape Town Office.

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