Czech arms exports under fire from Amnesty International

The Foreign Ministry's annual report on Czech arms exports has come under fire from Amnesty International. The international human rights group says that the Czech Republic exports weapons to counties which violate human rights, and claims that there are no guarantees that the weapons will not end up in a third country on which the UN has placed an arms embargo. We put Amnesty International's points to the director of the foreign ministry's department of common, foreign and security policy Vaclav Balek.

Vaclav Balek,  photo: CTK
"I find this criticism quite unfair because we are quite open and we do publish all the information possible. In the process of granting a license we have to take into consideration various factors and one of those factors is the commitments of Czech exporters. If we are talking about "tricky" countries such as Ethiopia or Nigeria I have to make clear that the exports in question are exports of spare parts for military equipment exported in the past. In particular we are talking about spare parts for trainer aircrafts. Our exporters are bound by agreements -between them and the respective country - which says they are responsible for maintaining the fleet. That is all there is to it."

Amnesty has also called for more effective parliamentary controls on weapons exports. Could you explain how the present control mechanism works?

"The annual report which is published approximately at the end of June and approved by the government is then presented to Parliament and Parliament can ask various questions and request more information. I should add that in Parliament there is also a special committee dealing with arms exports issues."

Right, so you feel that there are effective control mechanisms already in place?

"For sure, because our control mechanisms are based on the EU code of conduct and are very similar to those of other EU member states. We are bound by the EU code of conduct and all those elements which were agreed within the EU in the past."

Another reservation expressed was that the foreign ministry's annual report on arms exports is not detailed - not specific enough - that it does not say how many weapons of a given type are exported where. Is that the case? Would it not have been more helpful to specify that the exports to Ethiopia and Nigeria were spare parts for aircraft?

"Even in a report of this size you can find quite detailed information about individual exports because it always contains the military equipment number according to which you can find out what sort of equipment is being exported where. I must stress though that we provide much more detailed information to the EU and the EU annually publishes its own report in which you can find much more information. The report is going to be published in the fall so if there are requests for more detailed information or any uncertainties I would recommend reading carefully the EU report on arms exports."