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South Africa takes fire for arms sales to blacklisted nations

A new report finds that the government of South Africa has made $1.7 billion in arms sales over the past decade to 58 blacklisted countries that do not meet South Africa's own criteria for arms customers, including those with poor human rights records or ongoing internal conflicts.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / July 1, 2010

Illegal fire arms are burnt in Nairobi on March 24, as part of a campaign by the Kenyan government to mop-up illicit small arms and light weapons that are at the center of increasing violent crime in Kenya and Africa.

Tony Karumba/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

South Africa, which has been winning applause for its hosting of the 2010 World Cup, is now coming under fire for another success: global arms sales.

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According to the South African watch group, Ceasefire Campaign, South African arms merchants have sold $1.7 billion worth of weapons in the past decade to “problematic” countries that are either involved in internal conflicts or with poor human rights records. The arms sales would appear to be in violation of South African law, which prohibits the sale of arms to countries that are on United Nations embargo lists, have poor human rights records, or that are involved in conflicts.

“These arms can be used by countries to further deteriorate those human rights, or used in local conflicts, or they can be used in countries that have poor controls over what is going to happen to those arms in the future,” says Rob Thomson, a member of the steering committee for the Johannesburg-based Ceasefire Campaign.

"As a country, we passed this act, and it was seen as part of a new South Africa that would be a responsible player on the international stage with regards to the matter of arms,” says Mr. Thomson. “But now, we seem to have ignored that responsibility.”

South Africa is, of course, just one of many arms merchants in the world. The United States dwarfs all others, selling $15 billion in arms in 2009, and many of the US’s top customers are the same “problematic” countries cited in the Ceasefire Campaign report. But South Africa’s role as an arms dealer conflicts with its aspirations to be a problem solver in Africa, a voice of the developing world, a champion of human rights.

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