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Control of arms exports

Wolf-Dieter Vogel, taz [google translate from the German original]
December 7, 2020

The German arms factory Dynamit Nobel has exported rocket launchers to Mexico. It is unclear where these ended up. And in whose hands.

OAXACA taz | Heckler & Koch, Sig Sauer – and now also Dynamit Nobel? Despite several scandals involving the export of small arms to Mexico, export authorities continue to turn a blind eye to approving these deals. According to taz research, the armaments manufacturer Dynamit Nobel Defense GmbH has exported numerous rocket launchers to the country, although there is a high risk that they could fall into the hands of the mafia or that soldiers could violate human rights.

It is difficult to understand where the dangerous goods ended up. Because the German authorities did not confirm the exact final destination of the weapons. And the government buyers in Mexico have no documents to prove what happened to the goods. Was there another illegal arms export here?

The leading criminal organizations in Mexico repeatedly use rocket launchers, and the Jalisco cartel even used them to down a military helicopter. 119 of the weapons have been confiscated from various Mafia organizations over the past twelve years. How the guns get into the hands of the criminals is unclear.

There is no question, however, that members of the armed forces cooperate with criminal organizations and that soldiers are responsible for numerous attacks on the civilian population. In October, US law enforcement officers arrested the previous administration’s Secretary of Defense, Salvador Cienfuegos, for allegedly working for a mafia organization. He was recently extradited back to Mexico.

Whereabouts unknown

Despite such circumstances, Dynamit Nobel sold numerous RGW 60 Heat rocket launchers, plus training systems and accessories, to the Mexican Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) in 2018. This is what the Mexican government declared in the UN weapons registry. The deal concerned 4,114 parts, including 1,467 rocket launchers, according to Germany’s Federal Export Office (BAFA).

But where did the weapons go? The Mexican government declared: “Despite a detailed search in the SEDENA archives,” no documents could be found on the whereabouts or the end users of the imported rocket launchers and their accessories.

Under these conditions, the deal should not have taken place at all, because the German companies have to present an ” end-use certificate” from the customer to BAFA for the deal to be approved. “If the Mexican Ministry of Defense cannot unequivocally inform and determine the end user, that is a reason not to approve the export,” said the Green MP Katja Keul.

Students murdered with Heckler & Koch rifles

In response to a taz request, Dynamit Nobel informed that the company could unfortunately not provide any information on customers and contract details. The Ministry of Economic Affairs said it had received an end-use certificate. Since the end user is a “federal institution”, i.e. SEDENA, a breakdown by federal state is not necessary, according to Keul’s answer to a question. This is surprising because every weapon imported into Mexico is first sold to SEDENA and then passed on to other users. Years ago, the exact breakdown helped to bring an illegal gun deal to light in the first place.

Between 2006 and 2009, BAFA approved the export of G36 assault rifles from the company Heckler & Koch, with the proviso that certain regions could not be supplied due to the poor human rights situation. Nevertheless, around half of the 10,000 or so weapons ended up in these regions. For example, in the state of Guerrero, they were used, among other things, by security forces and criminals in September 2014 to attack students.

This made clear the deadly consequences arms exports can have. Six people died at the time, and 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher school were abducted. To this day it is unclear what happened to them. The intense journalistic attention that the crime aroused led to the Stuttgart district court sentencing Heckler & Koch in 2019 for the illegal export of weapons.

Despite this experience, the BAFA does not consider it necessary to break down which Mexican states have received the rocket launchers nor how many they received. “This makes it easier for importers in Mexico City to use Dynamit Nobel Defense’s weapons of war in regions where civil war-like conditions prevail and corrupt security forces are cooperating with the drug mafia,” said Grässlin, who, with his 2010 complaint, got the ball rolling for judicial proceedings against Heckler & Koch.

Better controls, especially on paper

After the criminal business of the Black Forest-based arms company became known, the federal government promised to control the export of small arms more carefully. As early as the end of 2010, deliveries of the lethal arms to Mexico were no longer to be approved. Nevertheless, German companies continued to sell weapons to the Latin American country. In addition to the rocket launchers, for example, pistols from Carl Walther GmbH were also supplied after 2010.

In 2015, then-Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) announced specific restrictions on the export of submachine guns, assault rifles and similar weapons. The so-called Small Arms Principles were established. The delivery of the rocket launchers violates these requirements, MEP Keul said, because the export of these armaments to third countries – i.e. non-NATO and non-alliance states – should no longer be approved in principle, the Green politician explained.

On the basis of these principles, the federal government also introduced so-called post-shipment controls, i.e. mandatory checks on the final destination of exported weapons. This is a decisive improvement in the monitoring of arms exports, explained Gabriel. “Finally, the information that recipients give about the whereabouts of the weapons can be checked on site.” But if authorities like those in Mexico do not have any documents and BAFA only knows that the rocket launchers have been delivered to the Defense Ministry, end use  controls are hardly possible.

In any case, these controls are a “farce”, said Sevim Dağdelen, a member of Parliament for the Left. After all, only two staff positions have been created for this at BAFA. Inquiries from the parliamentarian revealed that nine on-site inspections have been carried out in the past three years.

Green MP Keul considers the introduction to be a success in principle, but is also convinced: “The number of post-shipment controls carried out is still very expandable.”

237 charges against Mexican soldiers

The sale of rocket launchers also contradicts the arms export guidelines, according to which no weapons should be exported to regions where they could be used to violate human rights. Dynamit Nobel leaves no doubt that soldiers can use their rocket launchers not only in heavy military combat against tanks, but also in attacks on people. The weapons of the “Comecon Family” may be operated by individual shooters against semi-hard and soft targets, i.e. people, as the Burbach-based company advertises on its web site.

Above all, however, there are doubts that Dynamit Nobel Defense has acted “responsibly,” as was explained to taz. In the first nine months of 2020, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission received 237 complaints that soldiers violated human rights and allegedly acted violently against people. In the northern border town of Nuevo Laredo, a major drug smuggling site, Marines disappeared at least 32 people in 2018, who were believed to have been killed. The case against 257 army members is being investigated.

Soldiers were also apparently involved in the attack on the Ayotzinapa students in Guerrero. The public prosecutor’s office recently issued arrest warrants for some military personnel. Cienfuegos – the general who was arrested in October for alleged cooperation with the Mafia – was politically responsible at the time. When human rights defenders and relatives called for the local military to be investigated after the attack on the young men, Cienfuegos made it clear: “I will not allow my soldiers to be interrogated.”

Correction (December 11, 2020): In an earlier version of the article we claimed that the Mexican government was talking about 4114 rocket launchers, whereas the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control was talking about only 1467. So there is a difference that is difficult to explain. In fact, the Mexican government did not speak of 4114 rocket launchers. Instead, in addition to rocket launchers, this number also included training systems and accessories.

Above: A heavily armed soldier in the Novena Military Zone in Culiacan, Mexico  Photo: Rashide Frias / ap