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ICRC head slams relaxation of arms exports rules

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There are an estimated 60 million guns in war-torn Yemen, which has a population of 18 million. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) opposes the relaxation of rules governing Switzerland’s export of war materiel to countries involved in civil wars. ICRC president Peter Maurer is also urging the Alpine nation to raise its “humanitarian profile.”

With decisions such as relaxing the regulation of arms exports and delaying the ratification of the international treaty to ban nuclear weapons, Switzerland “has lost credibility and reliability as a humanitarian actor,” Maurer said in remarks broadcast on Saturday by Swiss Public Radio, SRF.

The relaxation of the ordinance on war materiel, decided in June by the Federal Council and supported by the parliamentary committee, would allow arms to be exported to countries in internal conflict, if there is no reason to believe that the arms will be used in this conflict. Today, this type of trade is prohibited if the destination country is in armed conflict, internationally or internally.

Mauer said the political message being sent by Swiss policymakers is regrettable.

The ICRC knows with some certainty that this war materiel will sooner or later be used in war zones, Maurer added. On the ground, the organisation often comes across weapons that are exports from highly developed countries, and which had been shelved for some time.

War zones, he noted, are “over-supplied with weapons,” which exacerbates the situation.

The ICRC currently has a budget of around CHF 2 billion ($2.1 billion). According to Maurer, Switzerland is “the fifth largest provider of funds”, giving only CHF150 million. 

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