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Swiss 'sold weapons' during Arab Spring

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13:27 CEST+02:00

Switzerland sold arms and ammunition to long-term clients Egypt and Bahrain during the "Arab spring" protests, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Amnesty International looked into arms deliveries done after 2005 by European countries, Russia and the United States to five countries in the Middle East and North Africa ruled by repressive regime: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The organisation found out that the main suppliers of arms were the US, Britain, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. However, neutral Switzerland also appears on the list.

The human rights organisation stated that the report indicated that there is no proof to show that these weapons were used against civilian protesters.

Between 2006 and 2010, Switzerland sold war material to Egypt for a total amount of 6.07 million francs ($6.7 million), of which 4.48 million ($5.3 million) were in handguns.

In the case of Bahrain, the Alpine country has sold small caliber weapons to Bahrain for a total of 293,000 francs ($326,000).

The organisation complained however that, unlike France or Spain, Switzerland continued selling weapons to Bahrain even after the popular uprising started.

"It's money and short-sightedness ahead of the rule of law and respect for human rights," said Brian Wood, manager of arms control at Amnesty.

Some of the Swiss ammunitions also ended up in the hands of the Libyan revolutionaries, according to a Swiss television report in July. The case, confirmed by Amnesty International, talks about bullets produced by the state-owned company RUAG.

It is thought that the ammunition originates from 2009, when Switzerland sold 1.85 million francs ($2.3 million) worth of ammunition to Qatar. Last year, Swiss weapons-makers made deals with the gulf state worth over half a million francs.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which handles export agreements, reacted to the report by stopping all weapons exports to Qatar, pending an investigation into how the bullets made their way to Libya.

But this was not enough according to Green party MP and member of a security policy committee of the Swiss parliament, Joseph Lang. He has been calling for a ban on Swiss arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa since the 'Arab spring' started.

The Amnesty report renews focus on the debate over Swiss arms exports.

In November 2009, the country voted for the third time against an initiative to ban the sale of Swiss weapons and war material. The proposal, launched by a broad coalition of peace groups and centre-left political parties, was overwhelmingly rejected with 68.2 percent of citizens voting against.

The government recommended a vote against the initiative arguing that thousands of jobs would be lost and that current laws were "restrictive, transparent, tough and not open to frequent abuses".

Back in 2009, Joseph Lang was already the most active member in parliament to defend the ban.

“The Swiss Constitution has some principles written, such as sending aid to developing countries, fostering human rights and helping peace processes, but then Switzerland sends weapons to the same very places,” he said in a 2010 interview.

“It is not only stupid but also a contradiction,” he added.

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