France to answer for arms sale to an African country?

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Last year, Paris supplied Chad with weapons worth about 13 million euros. Several NGOs have accused France of not honouring its commitment not to arm countries that violate human rights. They demand a parliamentary inquiry.

The Chad is a top French arms customer. A report on arms exports in 2008 released Monday by the French Ministry of Defense indicates that arms sales to Chad, from France, increased by 50% last year. The 13 million euro arms transaction exceeds the amount of financial support from France, in the same year, towards the strengthening of Chad’s education system, the fight against infant mortality and the AIDS scourge.

But did France have the right to supply weapons to the government of Chad? No, says a coalition of NGOs including Amnesty International France, Oxfam France – Agir ici, Catholic relief Services (CRS), Caritas France and the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD). According to these organizations, who have come together under an umbrella called “Control Arms”, the 27 member countries of the European Union in December adopted a “Code of Conduct of the European Union on arms exports” through which they pledged not to sell weapons whose use could contribute to serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, or undermine economic development.

“a serious parliamentary debate”

According to the NGOs, an international investigation committee, supported by France, implicated the Chadian authorities as the main and direct culprits of the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that occurred during the N’Djamena crisis in February 2008. Military support from Paris allowed President Idriss Deby Itno to hold on to power during an armed rebel threat from neighbouring Sudan.

Nicolas Eucken from Oxfam France says “the MPs must wake up and question the government on the legality of France’s exports to countries like China, Colombia, Israel and Chad”. Eucken also said French officials have to organise a serious parliamentary debate, “to ask the government what it has done to bring French legislation in line with its European commitments”.

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