Weapons: a commerce in the national interest

An investigative report by David André et Paul Moreira
First broadcast September 2, 2008 on Arte

Small arms kill one thousand people a day. They provoke rape. They corrupt entire societies for a long time. They are sold, resold and traded in violation of international law. They fall by thousands into the hands of bloody dictatorships, armed groups that answer to no one and governments bent on genocide. The arms trade takes place in a gray area of globalization. Where bandits and “non-state actors”, blurry paramilitary militias sometimes serve governments’ hidden agendas.
Our film investigates this shady trade. We went to the heart of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the spread of weapons has caused the largest number of civilian casualties since the Second World War; 5 million dead in 10 years. In complete silence. Theoretically, the country is subject to a strict embargo. Not a single bullet, not a single gun should ever reach the region. We met the armed gangs who admitted paying for their Kalashnikovs with precious minerals sold to the West. Throughout the film, we follow the work of a group of investigators working alongside with Amnesty International and Oxfam.
Like secret agents, they follow the trail of weapons through airport runways and computer databases, they question the militia leaders and traffickers who have changed their ways. Their investigations completed, they name the countries that violate embargoes, identify the intermediaries who move from one country to another changing their passports, according to their business needs. Can this trade in death be stopped? It’s certainly what the activists at Amnesty, Oxfam and IANSA who are fighting for: new tough international agreements. They take us to the corridors of the UN, as they press home their lobbying. And we discover that their most vocal opponents are not rogue states but nations that have privileged seats at the Security Council. Militias sowing death in Congo, the painstaking work of the Control Arms campaigners, journalists investigating the obscure and elusive arms trafficking networks. A fast paced film that reveals the dark side of globalization. With over 700 million small arms in circulation and exponential levels of production, the arms trade, as flourishing as it is murky, crosses borders regardless of international law.
Civilians, subjected to violence by dictatorships or wild militias, are the primary victims of massacres, rapes, forced exile and health crises. The United States remains the leading exporter of arms (55%) followed by Great Britain, Russia, France, Israel and Germany, but irresponsible new players, including China, are elbowing their way onto the market. To counter this global industry that officially shows off its wares during Paris Milipol Trade Fair, civilian networks have been organised by NGO groups within the Control Arms campaign. Their goal is to get the United Nations to ratify an international treaty prohibiting the export of arms to regimes guilty of massive violation of human rights. While 153 countries (out of 192) are in favour, the Americans still oppose it, as explained with no qualms whatsoever by John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN and firm ally of G.W. Bush.
In order to enter the gray area of the weapons trade and understand how it works, investigative journalists Paul Moreira and David André were given first hand access to activists and investigators from Amnesty International whose scientific methods reveals the truth about this trade and the governments who flaunt the embargoes. The activists use local contacts and databases, anything in fact, to help as they tirelessly track down and reveal those behind the secret network. People such as Leonid Minin, briefly interviewed by telephone, or the ‘Godfather’ himself Victor Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and now facing trial in the United States.
Having inspired the movie ‘Lord of War’, both embody the new generation of criminals that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The journalists also visited eastern Congo, where conflicts, sustained by the spread of weapons, have caused the deaths of five million civilians over a decade. In a general indifference from the outside world. In North Kivu, they met armed groups who terrorize the people and proliferate, with the help of neighbouring states and through the precious minerals, essential to the digital revolution in the West. From the field and behind the scenes, the film gradually unravels the threads to produce a disturbing account on how the deadly trade works often with impunity. And, trying to stem the flow of weapons, heroes emerge amongst the militants of the Control Arms campaign.