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Arms Exports to Countries with a Consistent Pattern of Gross Human Rights Abuses
American Bar Association
14 April 2014

From James R. Silkenat, President, American Bar Association to Stephen Pomper, Chairman, Atrocities Prevention Board


Dear Chairman Pomper:  


On behalf of the American Bar Association (ABA) and its Center for Human Rights (Center),
which develops and implements ABA policy, projects and educational initiatives on human
rights concerns, I write to commend the Administration for issuing a new directive on U.S. arms
exports and to suggest that the Atrocities Prevention Board conduct a review of such exports to
ensure that U.S.-origin weapons do not inadvertently contribute to atrocities.
The ABA was very pleased to learn the new directive on U.S. arms transfers includes specific
human rights protections. We understand the directive was issued, in part, in response to
suggestions from the Atrocities Prevention Board. In an effort to ensure that the human rights
objectives of the new directive are achieved, the Center has performed a preliminary analysis of
U.S. arms exports to determine whether existing legal restrictions regarding such transfers are
being fully implemented and to identify countries in which there is cause for concern that U.S.
exports could inadvertently contribute to atrocities.
As you know, U.S. law provides that, except under narrowly-defined circumstances, no security
assistance – including certain arms sales – “may be provided to any country the government of
which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human
rights.” The Center’s preliminary analysis indicates that there may be a number of countries
that have been authorized to receive significant levels of arms exports that also engage in a
consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights. As illustrated in the attached table, a
review of U.S. government records identified eleven countries that were authorized to receive
over $10 million worth of arms exports in FY2012 that, according to State Department human
rights reports, appear to have engaged in gross human rights violations consistently over the last
three years. These include three countries identified by the State Department’s Bureau of
Conflict and Stabilization Operations as countries of concern. While not all countries meeting this
standard are necessarily prone to mass atrocities, full implementation of this law would likely help reduce
the risk of atrocities before they become acute.
We appreciate that the U.S. government conducts vigorous vetting of foreign security units
receiving U.S. security assistance but are nonetheless concerned that not all arms exports are
subject to such vetting and that military equipment – including especially small arms that can
greatly contribute to atrocities – can be highly fungible. We therefore urge you to conduct a
comprehensive review of countries receiving U.S. arms exports to ensure that such exports do
not contribute to atrocities.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
James R. Silkenat
American Bar Association

Read the letter here.

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