PRIO Network

Tools of the torturer? Small arms imports and repression of human rights

de Soysa, Indra, Thomas Jackson and Christin M. Ormhaug. 2010. Tools of the torturer? Small arms imports and repression of human rights, 1992–2004. The International Journal of Human Rights. 14(3):378-393.

Several studies have focused on the effect of military trade and defence spending on human rights, particularly the effect of US military aid in Latin America. Little is known, however, about the human rights effects of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, are adamant that any future Arms Trade treaty ban small arms to risky environments. Using a unique dataset on small arms trade, we find that higher imports of small arms associates with lower respect for physical integrity rights and higher levels of state terror against citizens. This study establishes a direct empirical link between small arms imports and the violation of human rights, but this effect is substantively quite small. Since civil wars lead to very high levels of human rights violations and require large amounts of SALW, the overall impact of small arms on human rights is potentially quite large, vindicating demands of the NGO community for greater scrutiny of small arms trade. Moreover, we demonstrate that the effect of small arms among autocracies has a much higher risk of repression than among democracies, which is a salient entry point for global policy.

Keywords: small arms and light weapens (SALW); repression of human rights; global arms trade

Access the article here.