If the UK government proceed and arm Syrian rebels, the very minimum they have to do is provide detailed answers to Amnesty International activist Kristyan Benedict’s 10 questions.
“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, [the ending of the arms embargo] gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,”
This was William Hague’s response to the EU’s failure to reach agreement around renewing the arms embargo on Syria.
The New York Times summarized the in rifts within the EU over arming rebels saying:
“efforts to ease the arms embargo, led by Britain, exposed deep rifts on Monday over the issue of arming the rebels… Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden came to the meeting strongly opposing arms shipments. They distrust large parts of the Syrian opposition and said they feared that the weapons would end up in the hands of jihadist groups.”
Many met this news with dismay:
Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Foreign Minister was unequivocal in his government’s analysis of the situation saying:
“The only effect you could have — let’s be realistic about this — is that it will stimulate the Russians to provide even more arms,”
Timmermans hits on the same point that Kristyan Benedict asks in his article “10 questions“. The last of these 10 questions to the UK government about arming the Syrian opposition reads:
“What is the likelihood of an arms race occurring from increased arms supplies to the armed opposition?”
It is an important question.
It is widely understood that the UK and France are eager to provide armed support to the rebels. As such, the crux of Benedict’s questions, “what adequate safeguards would the UK Government put in place to ensure any arms transferred would not be used to commit human rights abuses.” is more relevant than ever.
If the UK government does go ahead and arm the rebels, despite the very vocal criticism, the very minimum it has to do is to be able show it can effectively answer each of Benedict’s questions. How will they ensure rebels use the weapons in line with IHL? How will they ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands? etc etc…
Without these basic safeguards they leave themselves open to accusations of negligence and (according to the Austrian government) violations of International Law.