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Urges Suspension of Weapons Exports to All Human Rights Abusers

Contact: John Lindsay-Poland, johnlindsaypoland@gmail.com, 510-282-8983

Stop US Arms to Mexico, a project of the human rights organization Global Exchange, applauded the U.S. Commerce Department’s limited suspension on Friday of new weapons export licenses to some countries, while calling for a broader suspension of weapons exports to reduce violence and review such exports. 

The Commerce Department, which oversees US exports of semi-automatic firearms and their parts and bullets, announced a 90-day hold on new licenses for exports to non-governmental gun users in some countries, in order to “mitigate risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities.” 

The action occurs as US weapons exports to some nations have spiked dramatically. For the first eight months of 2023, the annualized US exports of firearms, munitions and gun parts to Latin America have increased by 74% since 2021, according to US Census Bureau trade data.

But the hold could have limited impact. Excluded from Commerce’s action are exports to military and police forces that buy US firearms; shipments on licenses already approved; and exports to Israel, Ukraine and 40 other nations that have signed the Wassenaar Arrangement – including Mexico. Those countries account for about 79% of the Commerce-controlled exports in the first eight months of this year. The measure also does not apply to exports of fully automatic firearms, heavier weapons, and their parts and munitions, which are overseen by the State Department. 

Stop US Arms to Mexico calls on both the Commerce and State Departments to immediately suspend all firearms exports to police and military forces that have been implicated in serious crimes, including in Israel and Mexico. We also call on Commerce to suspend firearms exports to private end users in the 42 countries excluded from the suspension, pending review of the Department’s policies and practices.

Israel received over $67 million of Commerce-controlled exports in the first eight months of 2023, primarily firearm parts and ammunition, which is a steep increase from $54 million of such exports in all of 2022. The United States should not supply lethal weaponry to a state that is carrying out massive collective punishment, and possibly genocide, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of children just this month. 

Mexico – though not covered by the Commerce action because it is a Wassenaar member – had about $41 million of Commerce-controlled exports in just the first 8 months of this year – a huge spike from previous years. In addition, Mexico received 10,364 US-exported military rifles, overseen by the State Department, in the first eight months of 2023, three times the annual average of the last four years, according to US International Trade Commission data. Firearms, parts and munitions exports to Mexico accounted for 46% of all such US exports to Latin America so far this year. 

Commerce stated that “An application involving unnamed government, military, and police end users will be returned without action explaining to the exporter that specific named end users are required.” We welcome this step. Most firearms exports to Mexico are destined for police or military end users, yet the Mexican army has consistently named itself as the end user for all imports destined for police units. Will Commerce refuse license applications naming only the Mexican army as the end user? We don’t know. 

The countries subject to suspension of new licenses for private users with the most Commerce- controlled exports this year were Kuwait, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Guatemala, Brazil, and Ecuador. Recent media reports described how uncontrolled US gun exports to Thailand and Guatemala have fueled increased violence in those countries. US gun and ammo exports to Guatemala have soared since 2014-2018, when they averaged $4.4 million a year, to more than $12 million last year, and amounted to more than $10 million in just the first eight months of this year. This is occurring while conservative and corrupt elements seek to overturn the results of Guatemalan elections and gun violence is extremely high.

Despite its limitations, the Commerce Department’s ‘pause’ presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to apply rigorous criteria and risk assessments for all firearms export licenses and shipments. We urge leaders of the new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Commerce Department and State Department to promptly and seriously engage Congress and civil society in reviewing all lethal weapons exports.

Stop US Arms to Mexico is a project of Global Exchange: stopusarmstomexico.org