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Human Rights Watch denounces France's involvement in Syrian regime's military equipment
19.06.2012 Bookmark and Share

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused France of trying to "have it both ways" by calling for UN action in Syria while at the same time concluding profitable trade agreements with a Russian arms company allegedly exporting military equipment to the Syrian regime. These allegations come a few days after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on negotiations on the UN Arms Trade Treaty, calling for legally binding obligations of transparency and accountability with respect to "state-to-state transfers, state-to-private end-user transfers, commercial sales and leases, as well as loans, gifts, aid or any other form of transfer." [1]

In a statement issued on 3 June, Human Rights Watch urged the international community to halt contracts "with any company that may be an accomplice to crimes against humanity," and in particular with the Russian arms company Rosoboronexport which "is widely reported to be Syria's main weapons supplier." [2]

This statement preceded the exposure by Human Rights Watch of a deal made at the Eurosatory international arms fair in France between Thales and Rosoboronexport to equip future exported Russian tanks with thermic surveillance cameras. [3]

Human Rights Watch argues that Thales may have to account for crimes against humanity with respect to the current conflict in Syria, and that the French government, which owns about 27% of the company's shares, is in part responsible for atrocities committed by Bashar al Assad's regime. Speaking to French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Thales refuted HRW's allegations:

"Pursuant to the terms of the contract [with Rosobonexport] and French legislation, no re-exportation will be possible without prior approval by the French authorities." [4]

France's management of its economic interests and its relations with dictatorships around the world have been denounced by human rights organisations as being in contradiction with its otherwise strong stance in favour of UN intervention against some of these regimes. This was emphasised particularly in the aftermath of the UN/NATO intervention in Libya based on a UN Resolution [5] proposed by France, the UK and Lebanon in March 2011. [6]

As former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and UK prime minister David Cameron were welcomed as liberators during their visit in Libya shortly after the capture by rebel forces of Tripoli [7], allegations of collusion between Western regimes and Gaddafi's dictatorship emerged.

In August 2011, the Wall Street Journal revealed that documents found at the former Libyan intelligence agency's premises showed that Western companies, including the French firm Amesys, had provided Gaddafi's regime with surveillance equipment which, it is argued, contributed to the oppression of the Libyan population. [8]

In October 2011, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Human Rights League (LDH) lodged a complaint against the French company Amesys "for crimes allegedly committed through the supply to Gaddafi's regime, beginning in 2007, of a surveillance system intended to monitor communications of the Libyan population". [9] A judicial enquiry was eventually launched in May 2012.


[1] European Parliament resolution of 13 June 2012 on the negotiations on the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) (2012/2636(RSP))

[2] Human Rights Watch, 3 June 2012, Isolate Syria's Arms Suppliers

[3] HRW s'inquiète de la signature d'un contrat entre Thales et le russe Rosoboronexport, 13 June 2012, Le Monde,

[4] SYRIE: La technologie française au service des chars d'Assad?, Le Nouvel Observateur, 12 June 2012,

[5] Security Council Approves 'No-Fly Zone' over Libya, Authorizing 'All Necessary Measures' to Protect Civilians, by Vote of 10 in Favour with 5 Abstentions

[6] Libya: UN backs action against Colonel Gaddafi, 18 March 2011, BBC

[7] Cameron and Sarkozy meet Libya's new leaders in Tripoli, 15 September 2011, The Guardian,

[8] Firms Aided Libyan Spies, 30 August 2011, Wall Street Journal

[9] FIDH, 24 May 2012, Opening of a judicial inquiry targeting Amesys for complicity in acts of torture in Libya

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