(IPS) Russia and China, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council described as key arms suppliers to the embattled regime in Syria, are now accused of supplying weapons and fuelling an ongoing conflict in another military hotspot: Sudan.
In a report released Thursday, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) said weapons sales by China and Russia, including ammunition, helicopter gunships, attack aircraft, air-to-ground rockets and armoured vehicles, have resulted in serious human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan.
AI said that arms supplied to the government of Sudan are used in Darfur both directly by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and government- backed militia, including the Popular Defence Force (PDF).
The PDF formally commanded and equipped by SAF operates alongside them, including by being deployed on SAF vehicles, while Chinese-made small arms ammunition is being used in Darfur by SAF, other Sudanese security agencies and SAF-backed militia groups.
"These arms transfers highlight the urgent need to strengthen the existing ineffectual U.N. arms embargo and for governments to agree on an effective Arms Trade Treaty (which is currently under negotiation)," it said.
Asked about these weapons sales, Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers Programme of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that AI's conclusions are fully in line with those of the reports of U.N. panels of experts which have investigated arms flows into Darfur, and which have described the weapons used in Darfur.
Confirming that Russia and China are currently the largest arms suppliers to Sudan, he said that in the case of Russia this is authenticated by the Russian submissions to the annual U.N. register on conventional arms.
Similarly, Belarus reported itself that it had supplied Su-25 combat aircraft to Sudan.
However, he said, two countries known to have supplied weapons to Sudan in recent years are missing from the AI report: Iran and Ukraine.
Ukraine has reported to the U.N. register that it exported 90 tanks to Sudan in 2010. Both Russia and the Ukraine have also supplied military equipment to South Sudan, he added.
AI said an estimated 70,000 people were displaced from eastern Darfur in 2011 in a wave of ethnically targeted attacks against the Zaghawa community by Sudanese government forces and militias.
"China and Russia are selling arms to the government of Sudan in the full knowledge that many of them are likely to end up being used to commit human rights violations in Darfur," said AI's Brian Wood, described as an in-house expert on military and policing.
The Darfur conflict is sustained by the constant flow of weapons from abroad.
To help prevent further serious violations of human rights, all international arms transfers to Sudan should be immediately suspended and the U.N. arms embargo extended to the whole country, AI said.
The Security Council is expected to discuss the existing Sudan sanctions next week. At the same time, member states will also resume talks on a proposed Arms Trade Treaty.
An effective treaty, said AI, would compel governments to stop transfers where there is a substantial risk the arms will be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations or war crimes.
AI said that 2010-manufactured ammunition with Chinese manufacturing codes has also been observed in Southern Kordofan during 2011.
In the 2011 fighting in eastern Darfur, there was a repeated pattern of aerial attacks on both military and civilian targets using SAF Sukhoi-25 ground-attack aircraft, Mi-24 helicopter gunships, and Antonov transport aircraft used as rudimentary but effective bombers.
AI also found that Sudan received 36 new Mi-24 helicopter gunships between 2007 and 2009.
The continual replacement of Mi-24s by the Russian Federation makes it possible for attacks in Darfur to continue, AI added.
SIPRI's Wezeman told IPS Sudan has been "one of the most horrible and terrible conflicts in Africa in the past decade".
In the case of Sudan an effective and timely arms embargo could have contributed to shortening the conflict or could have saved lives.
It is not the only conflict in the region for which arms supply constraints can play an important role, he added.
As described in the recent SIPRI report about the issue, "Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa", a key challenge for adequate arms control is to understand which arms supplies provoke, prolong or aggravate violent conflicts and which supplies contribute to security and stability, Wezeman pointed out.
The uncertainty about the impact of arms transfers to conflict areas in sub-Saharan Africa is reflected in the experience of 2006-2010.
In several cases, he said, it could be argued that arms supplies have contributed to government’s capabilities to legitimately maintain or restore stability in their country, including with the use of force against rebel groups.
In a number of cases, exporting countries have supplied arms to governments in the region with the explicit intention to achieve these objectives and in line with United Nations statements or actions, Wezeman said.
The least controversial arms supplies are those aimed at improving African states capabilities to participate in peace operations.
However, in many cases arms supplied to sub-Saharan Africa have had clearly undesirable effects, he added.