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UN resolution on Israel raises issue of arms sales in Africa

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A column of Israeli Merkava tanks is amassed on the outskirts of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon. The US, which voted against the UNHRC resolution, and Germany are the biggest sources of Israel’s weapons imports, at 68 percent and 30 percent respectively, the writer says. – Picture: Jalaa Marey / AFP / October 8, 2023

By Sizo Nkala

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on April 5 that demanded states stop the transfer or sale of arms to Israel. This comes amid Israel’s war on Palestine, which started in retaliation to an attack by Hamas on October 7 last year.

Since the beginning of the war, more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and more than a million forced out of their homes. Most of the dead are women and children. Israel has been accused of indiscriminate attacks on Palestinians and aid workers. On April 2, an Israeli air strike killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen, part of an aid convoy going to deliver aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

South Africa dragged Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year accusing it of perpetrating genocide in Palestine. The ICJ has ruled that Israel must stop killing and harming Palestinians, and stop creating conditions that will lead to their destruction.

The US, which voted against the UNHRC resolution, and Germany are the biggest sources of Israel’s weapons imports, at 68 percent and 30 percent respectively. Other suppliers, although small, include the UK, Australia and Italy. There have been successful campaigns that have seen various countries, namely Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Spain and the Netherlands, halt the export of weapons to Israel.

In the UK, the government has said it will continue exporting weapons to Israel despite a spirited campaign by legal practitioners, academics and judges warning that the government may be violating international law by its continued supply of arms to Israel.

Nicaragua also took the German government to the ICJ, alleging that its weapons exports to Israel were aiding and abetting a genocide. It asked the court to issue an order stopping the German government from sending arms to Israel.

The US government looks hell-bent on keeping its status as Israel’s largest arms supplier. This year, the US Senate approved a bill that would provide more than $14 billion (R262bn) in arms supplies to Israel. Although the UNHRC resolution is non-binding and does not have the power to halt a country’s supply of weapons to Israel, it is an important addition to a growing campaign to stop Israel’s arms supplies.

The resolution also raises an issue that is relevant for Africa – a continent bedevilled by numerous conflicts in 16 countries including Somalia, Sudan, Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

As a result, 40 million Africans have reportedly been displaced and forced to leave their homes. The conflicts are often facilitated and sustained by illicit and illegal arms supplies from external actors.

In the DRC, Rwanda has been accused of supplying the M23 rebels with arms, while the United Arab Emirates and Chad have been fingered as weapons suppliers for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that have been fighting the Sudanese government for close to a year. The RSF has allegedly committed atrocities against civilians including enforced disappearance, rape and murder.

Terrorism has also been on the rise in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa and has wreaked untold havoc in the countries in those regions. Terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia, continue to commit crimes against humanity through murder, abduction and torture.

More than 22,000 people have been killed by terrorist groups operating across Africa. Perhaps aware of the impact of weapons supply chains on endemic conflicts that have destroyed communities and lives, 10 out of 13 African countries that are represented in the UNHRC have voted in favour of the resolution.

Malawi opted to vote against while Cameroon and Benin settled for abstention. An arms embargo was imposed on apartheid South Africa by the UN in the 1970s, under accusations of abusing the human rights of the black population in the country.

The UN also imposed an arms embargo on Libya in the wake of the outbreak of the civil war in 2011 that contributed to the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi administration.

Libya is embroiled in what seems to be an intractable conflict that is sustained by illicit arms flows.

The issue of arms supplies that fuel conflict in Africa deserves attention from the highest levels of global and continental leadership. The strict monitoring of arms supply chains is important in reducing the scourge of conflicts in Africa and the world over. In the same manner, it is only through cutting Israel’s arms supplies that it will stop its atrocities in Gaza.

Dr Sizo Nkala Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies