Thursday

27th Feb 2020

Loopholes aplenty in EU 'arms ban' on Egypt

  • Tear gas OK? Based on 2011, the EU ban will mainly affect Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech republic and Italy, but not France, Germany, the UK or Spain (Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

The EU's ban on sales of "repressive" equipment to post-coup and post-massacre Egypt leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

Member states imposed the restrictions on 21 August in the wake of violence which saw the army kill more than 800 Muslim Brotherhood protesters, most of whom were demonstrating peacefully.

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Foreign ministers "agreed to suspend export licenses to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression."

They did not publish a list of items covered by the move because it was an informal EU decision rather than a legal act which spells out the nitty gritty.

But an internal EU document is being used by some countries' capitals to act as a guideline.

The paper, seen by EUobserver and copied below, is not public, but is the same as previous lists of repressive equipment used, for example, in sanctions on Libya in 2011 or Cote D'Ivoire in 2010.

The paper names 11 types of material.

The first type relates to "fire-arms, ammunition and related accessories," including "weapons sights."

It names "bombs and grenades not controlled by the EU common military list."

It lists vehicles and parts for vehicles which are "equipped with a water cannon … [designed] to be electrified to repel borders … to remove barricades, including construction equipment with ballistic protection … [used] for the transport or transfer of prisoners … [and] … to deploy mobile barriers."

It names "devices specially designed to initiate explosions by electrical or non-electrical means," as well as "linear cutting explosive charges" and six types of explosive substances.

It lists "body armour providing ballistic and/or stabbing protection … [and] helmets providing ballistic and/or fragmentation protection, anti-riot helmets, anti-riot shields and ballistic shields."

It also covers "night vision, thermal imaging equipment and image intensifier tubes," and it lists "razor barbed wire" and "military knives, combat knives and bayonets with blade lengths in excess of 10cms."

By comparison with the EU common military list, one glaring omission is "ML7 ... riot control agents," such as tear gas.

Other omissions include rockets and missiles, tanks, military helicopters and parts for heavy military vehicles.

An EU official told EUobserver the EU guideline paper is "clearly not exhaustive" and member states are free to decide unilaterally what to ban.

"Whether a helmet with a face guard used by riot police is banned, but helmets used by the military are allowed is up to each member state to decide," he said.

With helicopter gunships used to intimidate crowds during the unrest, he added: "Whether selling components for this kind of vehicle can help 'internal repression' is also left up to member states."

For its part, the UK's department for business and innovation in a press release on 28 August said Britain suspended 49 export licences.

It named "small arms/firearms components, armoured vehicle components and communications equipment." In one area, it went beyond the EU list by banning "equipment, including spares for helicopters and aircraft, specialist software and communications equipment."

Looking at EU arms exports to Egypt in 2011, the latest data available, the EU ban will mainly affect Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech republic and Italy, which gave licences for some €33 million of explosives and ammunition.

But it leaves the big Egypt exporters - France, Germany and Spain - free to sell hundreds of millions of euros worth of military electronic equipment, tanks and aircraft.

With the informal EU decision not mentioning any date or pre-conditions for the expiry of the ban, it also leaves countries free to decide when to resume sales of, for example, sniper rifles.

Dutch minister Frans Timmermans on 21 August noted that security co-operation will resume "in the long run," because Egypt is a strategic partner for Europe.

The British document of 28 August said: "This suspension will be kept under review until such time as conditions in Egypt indicate that it is appropriate to lift these restrictions."

EU guideline paper on repressive equipment

List of equipment which might be used for internal repression

Equipment for internal repression envisaged by Article (X)

1. Fire-arms, ammunition and related accessories therefor, as follows:

1.1 Firearms not controlled by ML1 and ML2 of the EU common military list;

1.2 Ammunition specially designed for the firearms listed in 1.1 and specially designed components therefor;

1.3 Weapon-sights not controlled by the EU common military list.

2. Bombs and grenades not controlled by the EU common military list.

3. Vehicles as follows:

3.1 Vehicles equipped with a water cannon, specially designed or modified for the purpose of riot control;

3.2 Vehicles specially designed or modified to be electrified to repel borders;

3.3 Vehicles specially designed or modified to remove barricades, including construction equipment with ballistic protection;

3.4 Vehicles specially designed for the transport or transfer of prisoners and/or detainees;

3.5 Vehicles specially designed to deploy mobile barriers;

3.6 Components for the vehicles specified in 3.1 to 3.5 specially designed for the purposes of riot control.

Note 1: This item does not control vehicles specially designed for the purposes of fire-fighting.

Note 2: For the purposes of item 3.5 the term "vehicles" includes trailers.

4. Explosive substances and related equipment as follows:

4.1 Equipment and devices specially designed to initiate explosions by electrical or non-electrical means, including firing sets, detonators, igniters, boosters and detonating cord, and specially designed components therefor; except those specially designed for a specific commercial use consisting of the actuation or operation by explosive means of other equipment or devices the function of which is not the creation of explosions (e.g., car air-bag inflaters, electric-surge arresters of fire sprinkler actuators);

4.2 Linear cutting explosive charges not controlled by the EU common military list;

4.3 Other explosives not controlled by the EU common military list and related substances as follows:

a. amatol;

b. nitrocellulose (containing more than 12.5 % nitrogen);

c. nitroglycol;

d. pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN);

e. picryl chloride;

f. 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT).

5. Protective equipment not controlled by ML13 of the EU common military list as follows:

5.1 Body armour providing ballistic and/or stabbing protection;

5.2 Helmets providing ballistic and/or fragmentation protection, anti-riot helmets, anti-riot shields and ballistic shields.

Note: This item does not control:

- equipment specially designed for sports activities;

- equipment specially designed for safety of work requirements.

6. Simulators, other than those controlled by ML 14 of the EU common military list, for training in the use of firearms, and specially designed software therefor.

7. Night vision, thermal imaging equipment and image intensifier tubes, other than those controlled by the EU common military list.

8. Razor barbed wire.

9. Military knives, combat knives and bayonets with blade lengths in excess of 10cms.

10. Production equipment specially designed for the items specified in this list.

11. Specific technology for the development, production or use of the items specified in this list.

Correction: The original text said the EU guideline paper was circulated by the European External Action Service (EEAS) after the 21 August decision. The EEAS later told this website this is not the case. This story was changed at 7pm Brussels time on 2 September

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