The Human Rights Costs of China's Arms Sales to Sudan-A Violation of International Law on Two Fronts

By Kotecki, Stephanie L. | Washington International Law Journal, January 2008 | Go to article overview

The Human Rights Costs of China's Arms Sales to Sudan-A Violation of International Law on Two Fronts


Kotecki, Stephanie L., Washington International Law Journal


I. INTRODUCTION

Armed men on horses, camels and vehicles came with Sudanese government soldiers and surrounded the village at midday. Two hours later, one ... plane and two helicopters flew over the village and shot rockets. The attackers came into the houses and shot my mother and grandfather. The attack lasted for two hours and everything was burnt down in the village. Thirty-five people were killed during the attack-five women, 17 children and 13 men-and they were not buried.1

This story, reported by Darfur resident Adam Roum, whose village was attacked in June 2003, is just one example of the human rights violations that have occurred systematically in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years.2 Attacks often come from the sky, as Sudanese military helicopters drop bombs onto villages and farms.3 The aerial bombings frequently occur before or in conjunction with a ground attack by armed militia in all-terrain vehicles.4 Members of the state-controlled, heavily armed Janjaweed militia carry out these ground attacks.5 A study by the World Health Organization found that almost 27,000 violent deaths occurred in the Darfur region in 2004 (over 2000 per month).6

Since the 1990s, China has been one of the major global suppliers of military equipment and arms to Sudan.7 Documented reports note the sale of fifty Chinese-manufactured Z-6 helicopters to the Sudanese government, as well as the provision of technical repair services by Harbin Dongan Engine, a Chinese company.8 The small arms exported from China come in the form of rifles, shotguns, and handguns, according to United Nations ("UN") Comtrade data.9 Implicated Chinese weapons manufacturers include Changhe Aircraft Industries and Dongfeng Aeolus.10

China's interest in Sudan is not confined to the arms trade. China's need for oil has grown rapidly in recent years, and it has invested in African oil exploration to meet that need.11 Sudan is a primary focus of Chinese oil development, and China is far ahead of other nations in oil contracts there. By 2005, China was buying fifty to sixty percent of Sudan's oil exports, fulfilling seven percent of its own consumption needs.13 China has invested over eight billion dollars in joint exploration contracts in Sudan.14 As recently as July 2007, a major Chinese oil company reached an agreement allowing it to search for oil off the coast of Sudan and to own a stake in production for the next twenty years.15 The state-owned China National Offshore oil Corporation ("CNOOC") is a major presence with 10,000 Chinese workers in the country.16

China's financial interests in the country may contribute to its tolerant stance regarding Sudan's human rights record in Darfur.17 China began investing in Sudan's oil fields around the same time that other nations were breaking off diplomatic ties with the country due to its human rights abuses. China has been a consistent ally to Sudan in the international debate over the situation in Darfur.19 Human Rights Watch reports that China provided financial and military support to the Sudanese government during periods of ethnic cleansing in Darfur.20 China also used its position on the security Council to vigorously oppose UN-proposed sanctions against Khartoum.21

The situation in Darfur highUghts the problem of the international arms trade to conflict regions. Despite global awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, China continues to provide mititary equipment to the government of Sudan.22 The weapons sent from China to Sudan do not appear to travel through illicit channels, because China reports these shipments to the UN Comtrade.23 If the Chinese government gave export licenses to these shipments, it effectively provided its stamp of approval. Although the human rights abuses taking place in Sudan are well-known in the international community,24 the instability and conflict within the country do not appear to prevent Chinese export regulators from approving license applications for arms shipments to that area. …

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