The final destination and end use of weapons are two sides of the same coin – ensuring that arms are actually delivered to the people who ordered them and not siphoned off for use by others, and do not escape controls in order to be re-exported. A trend is emerging for contractors to take responsibility in this domain. Agreements with international scope recommend that responsible arms sales should closely respect the principles of international humanitarian law, but these principles are restricted by the lack of international consensus on their scope of application, whether they should be binding, and the equipment they cover.
Through case studies of violations of arms embargoes, it is suggested that existing technical tools, like end user certificates (EUC) and transport documents (which are subject to abuse at the moment), could be improved to monitor arms deliveries. The author shares his experience in the sale of illegal arms in West Africa to pick apart the mechanism, discern shortcomings and make a series of recommendations on how to make the EUC and transport documents more trustworthy.
The fact that totally illegal arms sales can occur despite the United Nations’ arms embargoes, with tragic humanitarian consequences, shows that global control of the arms market is far from achieved. The ECOWAS Convention, the Nairobi Protocol and the SADC Protocol represent a significant advance in this domain. They could be a positive sign for the future as long as they are applied, which will require essential consolidation of the infrastructure needed to supervise them.