Major arms exporter Sweden to put human rights before weapon sales

Sweden is the world's 12th biggest arms exporter


Reuters June 26, 2015
PHOTO COURTESY: BORGENMAGAZINE

STOCKHOLM: The Swedish parliament has recommended cutting arms exports to undemocratic countries, part of a push to prioritise human rights in its foreign policy that has already irked Israel and many Arab countries.

Sweden is the world's 12th biggest arms exporter, with arms companies like SAAB responsible for thousands of jobs. Sweden, though proud of its neutral status, exported arms worth 11.9 billion Swedish crowns ($1.44 billion) to 55 countries in 2013.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's centre-left government has emphasised the promotion of human rights and feminism in its foreign policy, sparking criticism that Sweden is hurting its local industry while ignoring growing threats such as Russia.

"A country's democratic status will be a central condition for an export permit," committee chairman Hans Wallmark told a news conference while presenting a report that has been three years in the making.

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Wallmark said Sweden would be the first country in the world to introduce specific democratic criteria when exporting weapons, judging each country on the basis of its democratic institutions and its civil and political rights.

Human rights are already a factor in Swedish arms sales policy but the committee said the current arrangements were too weak and that the country needed a law that was clearer and more systematically applied.

In March, Stockholm cancelled a defence agreement with Saudi Arabia worth billions of crowns to its industry after Swedish criticism of Riyadh's human rights record sparked a diplomatic row.

The Lofven government also made headlines last year by recognising Palestine as an independent state, sparking heavy criticism from Israel.

The government will present a proposal for a new weapon export law within a year and is likely to follow the committee's recommendations.

"This means that the potential markets for Swedish defence industry will diminish," said Lena Hjelm-Wallen, deputy committee chairman and a former minister of foreign affairs.

"That is the price we'll have to pay"

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COMMENTS (1)

S.R.H. Hashmi | 5 years ago | Reply Swede has recognized Palestine as an independent state, which is a commendable step indeed. It is now planning to frame laws which will make it mandatory to review the state of democratic institutions and its civil and political rights before deciding whether or not to issue weapons export permit for any country. Off hand, one would think that while considering whether or not to issue a weapons export permit for any specific country, only the state of democratic institutions, and civil and political rights as exercised within that country will be considered. If this really is so, then it will fail to satisfy the spirit of the legislation. For example, there are countries which could have satisfactory ranking on the matter of democracy, civil and political rights as exercised within the country, but may have dismal record while dealing with other countries. And here I have Britain and United States in mind which could come out with honours on these issues as practised at home and yet they felt themselves free to invade Iraq on fabricated grounds, without any UN resolution, and apart from causing the death of nearly one million innocent Iraqis and thousands of their own, destabilized the whole region. Also, they were guilty of worst violations of civil and political rights of Iraqis including extreme torture during their occupation of the country. Now, an application of the law in its real spirit should see Britain and the United States disqualified for the export of Swedish weapons, and these would not be the only countries to suffer such a fate. It would be interesting to see whether the Swedish government decides to go all the way or settles for half measures. Karachi
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