The Defense Ministry has recently removed Burundi from its list of countries to which weapons can be marketed without getting a special marketing license. The ministry informed weapons exporters of the change in export policy toward the end of last month. The move, first reported by the Defense News website, comes after nearly a year of political and security unrest in the central African country.
Until now, weapons exporters wishing to begin negotiating the sale of non-classified weapons or military technology to Burundi did not need a marketing license from the ministry. Only upon signing an agreement or contract were they required to get a license from the ministry’s security export branch – an export license – before transferring the weapons or equipment to their clients.
During 2014, the Defense Ministry substantially expanded the list of countries for which no marketing license was needed, from around 30 to nearly 100 countries. The ministry at the time refused a Haaretz request for a list of those countries, but now it emerges that Burundi, which experienced a civil war during the 1990s, apparently met the criteria for the exemption.
According to the Defense News report, the reason for the Defense Ministry move was “significant suspicions of violations of human rights” in Burundi because of the deteriorating internal security situation. As a result, export requests will be examined on a case-by-case basis, and no permits will be given for products or systems with the potential to undermine human rights.
According to a report by Amnesty International, during demonstrations in Burundi last year in which dozens of demonstrators were killed, Israeli-made gas grenades and water cannons were used.
Since April 2015, there have been numerous demonstrators killed in Burundi along with reports of torture and arbitrary arrests. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 people have fled Burundi to neighboring states because of the disturbances. Last May there was a failed military coup there. That same month the United States began limiting military exports to the country, although it has yet to impose an arms embargo.
Attorney Itay Mack, who actively lobbies for more oversight on arms exports, told Haaretz that he doesn’t understand why the Defense Ministry didn’t examine the American restrictions regarding Burundi earlier.
“To give a blanket exemption to a country like Burundi is pretty crazy, and raises the question of which other countries still have an exemption,” he said. “It’s very worrying and reflects the problem with the exemption and the oversight on defense exports, because there has been a ‘genocide alarm’ out on Burundi for several months.”
Mack said he had contacted the Defense Ministry about the issue two months ago, telling officials that “continuing Israeli security exports to Burundi are liable to have far-reaching consequences.” Mack asked that export licenses to Burundi be cancelled or suspended. The ministry decision on Burundi does not cancel any licenses, only establishes a need to request a marketing permit.
There has been no official response by the Defense Ministry on the change in export policy to Burundi.
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