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July 11, 2006

Mary Robinson

You what?

The link between the uncontrolled small arms trade and human rights abuses could not be clearer on the ground. I have seen it myself many times - for example when I visited Rwanda just after the 1994 genocide. There, supplies of small arms allowed the Hutu militia to take an estimated 800,000 lives while the world stood by.

Now whether there should be an international agreement on the trade in small arms or not is one thing but using as your evidence a genocide carried out with machetes and hoes really is something else.

What on earth has she been smoking?

July 11, 2006 in Military | Permalink


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It's those heartless capitalist bastards in the garden centres...

Yeah, I once sat through a seminar on this campaign. It looks like rich liberal American foundations like Ford want to introduce gun control in the US without the bother of convincing Congress, the judges or the general public to give up their second amendment rights. This is typical of the behaviour from Oxfam or Amnesty these days.

Posted by: Peter Nolan | Jul 11, 2006 12:11:53 PM

Mrs Robinson cannot have visited Africa recently. Or if she has, she obviously isn't the most observant of ladies.

Had she travelled anywhere on the continent with eyes open for more than the tranzi propaganda she seems to have swallowed she would have noticed that the vast majority of firearms are owned by either the governments or rebel forces. The third major group that does own firearms, the criminals, generally acquire their weapons from one of the other two. Beyond a few cheap, single-shot weapons used by native hunters the civilian population of this continent is unarmed.

Given that most African Governments are headed by paranoid nutters with a mortal fear of an armed population, it is virtually impossible for the average African to obtain a firearm permit throughout sub-Saharan Africa. That power is strictly in the hands of the Big Men not the Little People.

Coincidentally, weapons manufactured by the companies that Mrs Robinson obviously regards as the most evil perpetrators of the trade, Colt, Smith and Wesson, Remington, Fabrique Nationale, heckler and Koch, and so on, are relatively uncommon in Africa. The weapons most often seen bear the brand names Kalashnikov and Tokarev and were delivered to the continent in the spirit of fraternal good fellowship in their tens of millions by the regimes of Russia, Cuba and the People's Republic of China. Strangely, these regimes do not believe in free trade, prefering simple state to state or state to client transactions.

There is certainly an argument that had the people of Rwanda been allowed to legally own firearms for their own protection quite a few Hutu militiamen might have thought twice before going on the rampage. Barbaric slaughter isn't half as much fun when there's a chance your victims may be armed, after all.

This being so, might I suggest that Mrs Robinson withdraws her silly if well meaning head from her arse and at least considers rectifying the gross imbalance of power that exists on the continent by campaigning for greater civilian access to a means of self-defense rather than less?


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jul 11, 2006 1:15:02 PM

(see if this works from work)

The machetes were not just created from thin air. They were supplied by arms dealers alongside other small arms such as rifles, grenades and automatic weapons – which were also used in the genocide. In fact they were largely purchased through IMF loans. The example of Rwanda is therefore perfectly appropriate to use in a discussion of the arms trade.

As for the laughable idea that sub-Saharan Africa is full of governments legislating against the right to own guns, or that freedom there would be increased by more guns, one can only suggest Remittance man studies some of the history of sub-sahran Africa.

Posted by: James | Jul 11, 2006 2:30:35 PM

A machete is a tool. It is hardware. Lots of things can be used as weapons. If I buy a baseball bat at Sears, does that make Sears an "arms dealer"? If I pick up a rock to hit somebody with, who is the "arms dealer" then?

Are you planning to collect all the rocks and put them under the wise and benevolent supervision of people like Bob Mugabe, so that they can never again be used by a government against civilians?

Please explain how this will address real problems, like for example Darfur. The civilians are already disarmed, and their killers are armed by the government. The civilian arms trade isn't involved. Does that make it okay?

Posted by: P. Froward | Jul 11, 2006 3:58:54 PM

The large influx of small arms and light weapons in the hands of the Hutu-dominated government and militias tipped the power balance clearly in their favour and provided the perpetrators with the necessary support. Rwanda’s army went from 5,000 soldiers, armed with a modest amount of small arms to 30,000 equipped with a wide range of small arms and light weapons, including grenade-launchers, anti-personnel landmines and mid- and long-range artillery.

Are you seriously going to pretend that couldn't have made the slightest bit of difference?

Posted by: Dr Maybe | Jul 11, 2006 5:52:49 PM

Dr. M, they are talking about disarming civilians, everywhere. They are not talking about disarming governments. They are talking about disarming only those who can't afford to buy their way around the rules.

If they were halfway honest, they'd call themselves the Campaign for Convenient Genocide. That's what they are.

Posted by: P. Froward | Jul 11, 2006 6:38:33 PM


One point: I live in sub-Saharan Africa and travel reasonably broadly. Since one of my interests is shooting I sometimes enquire of local freinds how easy or difficult it is for them to legally purchase firearms. Almost universally, except for South Africa, where the laws are being tightened now, it is virtually impossible to legally own much more than a single barrelled shotgun for hunting small game.

Commercial hunting outfitters may be permitted other long weapons thanks to the revenue they bring in. But hunting rifes generally are not combat weapons and are certainly a poor match against an AK47. Also hunting outfitters are few and far between and heavily regulated. Not really much good if you are looking to equip an army or militia.

The vast majority of guns are in the hands of the state or rebel forces with criminals coming a distant third and usually supplied dirctly or indirectly from either of the first two.

As to your comment about arms dealers selling machettes along with small arms and grenades. What planet are you from? The machette, or panga, is a standard feature of African peasant farming equipment. Virtually every household has one. No one would consider them worthy of trading en-masse, they can be knocked up by any local village blacksmith from car leaf springs in no time at all.

And as one who worked on the mines in SA during the inter tribal troubles before democracy I can confirm that if the people want to make axes, assegais and knobkerries they can do so in pretty short order.

No illegal arms trader worth his salt is going to fill valuable cargo space with something he didn't need to sell, when he could fill it with more valuable AK47's and such.

As I said and has been repeated a couple more times here, the civil population was effectively disarmed and at the mercy of the Rwandan military and their militia buddies. An Argument can be made that had at least some of the civilians been permitted to own firearms some of the murderers might have been disuaded from going on a killing spree. Thugs generally shy away from victims who have the capacity to fight back, it takes the fun out of slaughtering them somewhat.

I accept that others may have a different point of view and am willing to engage in sensible debate on the matter, but, if you'll permit me James, perhaps you should get your facts straight first.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jul 11, 2006 6:57:58 PM

TRM: I think you may have misunderstood. The conference Mary Robinson was commenting on was discussing restrictions on and regulation of the *government-to-government* and *company-to-government* trade in small arms and light weapons. It wasn't really to do with rights and liberties to carry small arms within countries. So, I'm assuming from your first-hand experience of government thuggery in sub-Saharan Africa, compulsory traceability of small arms trades (which would, for example, allow perpetrators to be caught more easily) would be something you support?

And you ought really to have read the Robinson article in full before your "tranzi propaganda" rant. She specifically mentions Cuba, Pakistan, and others as countries that were obstructive to international regulations.

Posted by: Jarndyce | Jul 12, 2006 11:51:07 AM

Let's leave aside the prima facie improbability that the Hutu militias could slaughter around a million people armed solely with "machetes and hoes".

Let's leave aside the uncontroversial reality that the Interahamwe were armed with guns.

Let's leave aside, also, "whether there should be an international agreement on the trade in small arms" -- there should be, and the USA blocked it, in spite of its alleged commitment to human rights.

What matters is that Tim Worstall can make a lame psuedo-smartarse point against somebody faintly lefty without ever engaging with the substantive issue. That way his witless fans can feel all good inside.

Posted by: Blah | Jul 12, 2006 11:56:37 AM

In the year prior to the genocide Rwanda became the 3rd biggest importer of arms in Africa, spending over $100 million on small arms from dealers in Egypt, France and China (and probably others). This is not an insignificant amount of money for a small African country with a f**cked economy that was supposed to be under a UN arms embargo. It also means a discussion of the arms trade is perfectly reasonable within the context of the Rwandan genocide, which was the initial topic.

Whether it was rational consumerism to import these arms when machetes were allegedly already in existence is of course another point, but I doubt that sections of a government planning to exterminate a tenth of their population are acting rationally anyway.

Secondly weapons ownership amongst Tutsis was already high – you’ve already stated yourself that “virtually every household” had a machete and can pretty much make similar weapons at short notice so you can’t now have it both ways and pretend the victims didn’t have access to weapons. Many did and fought back, but were outnumbered and outgunned. Furthermore the tutsi dominated RPF re-invaded the country from Uganda when the genocide started precisely to protect their brethren, and ended up in charge of the country 3 months later when the genocide finished due to being the better military side. In other words the people who perpetrated the genocide were not deterred by significant arms on the other side.

Now onto the rest of sub-Saharan Africa;. Do you think countries such as the democratic republic of Congo (which has to be the most ironic name for a country since the people’s republic of china), Somalia (that 90s libertarian paradise with no government regulation or taxation) or Angola really have strong gun control and enforcement of this gun control?

As I’m being slightly facetious by naming countries that the term “failed states” was invented for, lets move to another example – Zimbabwe. The minority white farmers almost certainly had guns, as it is pretty essential for farming (as you’ve conceded). Did this stop them from oppression?

All that happens is that when the government started oppressing them is they had a choice – fight back against a numerically superior and better equipped army (the latter thanks the arms trade) and end up serving lengthy prison sentences (or worse) for murder, or leave the country when possible. The point is that gun ownership did not protect them, and is unlikely to in any situation where a small householder would be taking on an entire army. Further example – Iraq had/has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in the world. This is of course getting way off topic now.

It has to be also noted that the main customers and beneficiaries of the arms trade are governments, in a libertarian utopia the trade wouldn’t exist in anything like its current form. It’s a real shock to see libertarians defending the right of governments to spend taxpayers money on weapons….

Posted by: James | Jul 12, 2006 12:17:24 PM

Firstly could someone provide the quote where libertarians defend the right of governments to spend taxpayers' money on weapons is, please.

Secondly, Jarndyce may be right in saying that publicly the UN says it wants to limit govt to govt and company to govt arms sales but let's be serious here. Who thinks governments are ever going to give up the right to arm themselves to the teeth? And if the UN were really serious about curbing this sector of the trade, why was the "official" street artwork outside UN HQ of a revolver with a knotted barrel? Surely a similarly disabled AK47 would be more appropriate. To western eyes revolvers are more likely to be linked to private ownership nowadays.

As to the US scuppering the deal. In fact many countries did that including Cuba, China and a couple of the naughtier middle eastern states. Where the US did raise objections it was on fairly basic principles: The Second Amendment (the one about keeping and bearing arms) and the principle that the US has held to for 230 years that no foreign treaty may usurp the primacy of the Constitution. If one is of an internationalist frame of mind one can argue that in the modern world such an NIH attitude is dated, but that is the principle the US uses in all treaty negotiations.

As to the Tutsi's being armed by the mere fact they had pangas at home. Yes, if your enemy is armed similarly (and here I do differ from Tim's analysis of events in Rwanda). Sadly, as many colonial era battles demonstrated, taking knives to a gunfight was rarely a recipe for success. I simply brought up the ubiquity of pangas and the ease with which other bladed weapons can be made to refute the rather assinine statement that arms traders were shipping in truckloads of machettes prior to the massacres.

Equating Rwandan Tutsis to Zimbabwean farmers is also fallacious. There were very few white farmers left in Zim even before the land grabs and by definition they were spread far apart. A better analogy would be to have the Mashona (Mugabe's home tribe) engaging in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Matabele people. Factor in the Zimbabwean National Army and the "youth brigades" created by ZANU-PF and you have a situation much closer to Rwanda pre-1994 except there is no Matabele Liberation Army waiting in Botswana.

Finally to Jarndyce's comment about tracability of weaponry. Quite how does he think that can be acheived? All firearms receive a registration number at the time of manufacture to be sure. But once they are in the field in a foreign country, what then? Sadly one of the truisms about Africa is that although the governments love bureaucracy, efficiency or effectiveness is not a hallmark of most state agencies. A request for the registration records of all AK47's in Gromboolian service is likely to be met by a blank stare and "Sorry. The records, they are missing".

And don't try the CSI stock answer of matching bullets and cartridge cases. Marks made by the rifling can only be matched if the bullets are fired in reasonably quick succession. Dirt, wear and vigourous cleaning can alter the tooling patterns inside a barrel sufficiently to blur any forensic checks. Added to which military weapons are often designed so that barrels can be changed quickly due to their high rate of fire and hence wear. Military weapons generally carry their serial number on the receiver not the barrel.

As for the cartridge cases, a nail file can change the fine tooling marks left on extractors and firing pins in about five minutes. That is if you don't just change those components altogether. Not as easy as changing a barrel, but a moderatly competent armourer could do the job fairly quickly.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jul 12, 2006 5:21:37 PM

can we get in a dig at the French? I recently read up on the Rwandan genocide and was appalled at the complicity of the French in it all. Much of that $100m James refers to above came from them, didn't it?

Posted by: Luis Enrique | Jul 13, 2006 12:01:32 PM

Luis, if you want to have a dig at the french then this is probably the perfect example. If there was a french equivalent of Chomsky, it would be this example he'd be mentioning the most.

France was one of the main suppliers historically to the hutu power dictatorship that ran Rwanda since 1975 (IIRC – date might be different). Its military were trained in france, its government received large aid etc – basically a client state. The money I referred to above was actually given to the Rwandan government by International organisations (mainly the IMF) who gave it to them to rebuild the economy – instead it was spent on arms.

Furthermore once the genocide started France intervened militarily, officially to evacuate its expats, but the effect on the ground was actually to help the genocide because it halted the RPF advance (which was stopping the genocide) and provided cover for the retreating interwahme. There are also allegations that some French soldiers actually participated in some massacres, but I’m not sure of the truth of this.

Posted by: James | Jul 13, 2006 1:22:56 PM

Luiz the peacemaker!

James, I'll join you anytime taking potshots at the French.

By strange coincidence there was a History Channel documentary about Rwanda last night. Les Crapuads came out of it rather badly. Though, it must be said that the Clinton Administration also came in for a lot of flak for its failure to endorse early action (like reinforcing the UN force already in country and whose Canadian commander had a plan to stop the genocide before it started).

Indeed the entire Security Council came in for a pasting for reducing the UN force by 90% as the shit started going down. A pull out marked by the Belgian contingent publicly destroying their UN berets in disgust. Hardly the UN's finest hour and maybe one indicator why many people don't rate the UN as highly as it could be rated.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jul 13, 2006 7:28:44 PM

Hardly the UN's finest hour and maybe one indicator why many people don't rate the UN as highly as it could be rated.

And have a guess at who was head of UN peacekeeping at the time!

Posted by: Tim Newman | Jul 15, 2006 8:42:50 AM