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Bout’s trial recalls how it is urgent to regulate the arms trade

The trial of Viktor Bout, suspected of international arms trafficking, will begin on the 11th October in New York. Former officer of the Soviet Air Force, Bout allegedly supplied illegal weapons to many conflict zones such as Angola, Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan or Afghanistan. Until March 2008, however, he had always escaped justice in spite of information and documented evidence of his actions.
Today, he is accused by the United States of arms trafficking with a terrorist group. In March 2008, Bout was arrested in Thailand during a sting operation led by US agents who were posing as representatives of the FARC in search of weapons.
Bout and other arms traffickers engaged in illegal activities including arms brokering operated with impunity for nearly two decades due to the lack of international regulation on the arms trade. These actors took advantage of the loopholes created by the differences between national legislations, or sometimes of the absence of national regulations, and of a lack of political will to change this situation.
Therefore, the future negotiations in view of adopting an Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 represent an opportunity which States should not miss. For the first time this treaty would impose common rules to all States in matters of arms transfers, particularly brokering.
Belgium has had to deal with Viktor Bout in the 1990s, when the Belgian authorities discovered that many of the trafficker’s airplanes which were based in Ostend were reportedly used to deliver arms to Rwanda in violation of an arms embargo on this country. The Belgian authorities, however, could not arrest Bout because of inadequate legislation. In this regard, GRIP points out that there is still no effective control over arms brokers in Belgium. On the one hand the current legislation does not comply with the European Common Position on arms brokering and on the other hand a jurisdictional conflict between the different Belgian authorities paralyzes any initiative to improve the legislation.
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Update: 11/10/2011

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