Accountablity of armament inventors and manufacturers in International Law: the confession of Mikhail Kalashnikov

During the League of Nations, there were some attempts, including a drat convention, which were meant to strictly regulate or even ban private manufactures of arms. Interestingly, such efforts were also supported by countries such as the USA. In contrast, the UN and its members appear to see the manufacturing of conventional weapons outside the reach of international law. Some studies have been conducted on the feasibility and desirability  of regulating manufacturing of armaments by the UN, but without any substantive success. 

However, the UN Firearms Protocol 2001 which supplements the UN Convention again  Transnational Organised Crime 2000 came up with a regulatory framework such as the duty to hold a licence, record keeping, marking and reporting of  arms manufacturers, without touching the debate over the accountability of arms manufacturers for the use of their weapons in armed violence abroad (and internally).

 

The debate over manufacturing, although not at the heart of conventional arms control as same as arms transfer across borders, divides countries and others. Some argue that manufacturers (which may or [may not] include inventors) must be accountable for what they produce and the consequences of the use of their products; such accountability may also be attributed to a state provided that the requirements of attribution are satisfied. This is a strong position given that most manufactures are also exporters and dealers of arms. The opposing view is that armament manufactures do their business based on the laws of manufacturing countries; they are important actors in defending a state’s national  security and promoting the  technological and economic advancement of countries.  Mikhail Kalashnikov, the famous Russian engineer who invented the worst killing (but also defending) automatic riffle, Kalashnikov, was among those who defended manufacturers and inventors from any accountability (moral or otherwise) of the consequences of the weapons they make. His position was that those who receive and use the weapons are the ones who must not use and abuse them to commit terrorism and other crimes. 

Kalashnikov died last month at the page of 95; it is reported that the confession he made and sent to the religious leader of the Orthodox Church of Russia includes the following  question: “My spiritual pain is unbearable. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”.

 Please read the rest from the news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25709371

It must be noted that more than 100 million AK-47 rifles are said to be in circulation, and they are the main, but not necessarily the only,  tools of armed violence in most trouble parts of the world. It must also be noted that the position of the Russian Church was not different from state position -we may well hear a confession on this subject from the Church itself sooner or later?

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2 Comments on “Accountablity of armament inventors and manufacturers in International Law: the confession of Mikhail Kalashnikov”

  1. Dawn says:

    Thank you, Dr Yihdego, for this enlightening article.

    Having read this, I was just wondering whether it would be apt to consider accountability from the perspective of corporate social responsibility, rather than of the State? We can look to soft obligations, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which do not create new binding international legal obligations. Instead, the Principles aim to create a common global standard for preventing and addressing the adverse human rights impacts of business activity and have been positively received not only by States and civil society organisations, but also by the private sector. (http://goo.gl/NRfxuf) In a document published by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in 2013, the Working Group noted that: “The UN Framework addresses the human rights responsibilities of businesses. Business enterprises have the responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate and whatever their size or industry. This responsibility means companies must know their actual or potential impacts, prevent and mitigate abuses, and address adverse impacts with which they are involved. In other words, companies must know—and show—that they respect human rights in all their operations.” (http://goo.gl/qK57jT)

    I find it hard to believe that gun manufacturers are naïve to the ‘actual and potential impacts’ of the arms they create. It can be argued that arms manufacturers have the responsibility to ‘prevent and mitigate abuses’ by refraining making publicly available certain weapons that have the potential to be misused. Given that the USA is one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world, it would be apt to use their national statistics for reference. Studies have shown that three quarters of the guns used in mass shootings were all legally purchased; since 1984, mass killers in the USA have utilised 22 shotguns, 23 revolvers, 29 rifles and 77 semiautomatic handguns. “More than half of the mass killers of the last 30 years possessed assault weapons or high- capacity magazines… High-capacity magazines allow a gun to fire without the need to reload, maximizing damage, increasing body count and minimizing risk to the shooter.” (http://goo.gl/1M1amr) Mother Jones has also noted the correlation between mental illness and those conducting mass shootings. (Full data set: http://goo.gl/TaC8UQ)

    Lucinda Finley and John Culhane have, for example, proposed the idea of gun requiring gun companies to pay ‘blood money.’ The gun manufacturer pays a tax that would be used as a compensation fund for innocent victims of gun violence, with the level of tax reflecting upon the lethality of the gun; the proposed result would be that those who buy the guns would bear some of the social costs of their choice. (http://goo.gl/qdrA30). This method takes into account the relative risk of the weapon being used in a manner that poses a risk to humanity. Deborah Avant, however, takes a different route and notes the important role of the government in encouraging social responsibility in the arms industry, especially since “governments buy a lot of guns and ammunition and can decide which companies to buy from. Unless you think were are headed for a ‘Mad Max’ world, governments will continue to be the most significant clients of weaponry. Local, state and national governments can do more to mobilise this purchasing power behind social responsibility in the arms industry.” She admits that CSR cannot completely substitute tough government regulation, but can certainly be an important part within a larger regulatory system. (http://goo.gl/57RwM2) This is true; arms manufacturers must have a licence from the government before they are authorised to develop any arms, and it is also the responsibility of the government to ensure that corporations are abiding by the regulations that are set out in national legislation.

    I believe that arms manufacturers should assume some level of responsibility for their creations and proliferation. Without their innovations and widespread availability, weapons would not be as easily accessible to the general public, and thus to the wider world. There are many ideas out there; some of them feasible, many of them near impossible. Convincing arms manufacturers of the benefits in embracing CSR would be a tremendous task, but experience has demonstrated that legislators, particularly in big arms manufacturing States, are hesitant to impose stringent arms regulations. It may thus be worth approaching the issue in terms of CSR, rather than imposing obligations and responsibilities from a top-down perspective.

    Here is an interesting read which highlight American gun manufacturers’ belief that supposed ignorance of their products used in criminal activity is sufficient protection from liability: http://goo.gl/H8hKzQ. As espoused by Judge Weinstein: “A responsible and consistent program of monitoring their own sales practices, enforcing good practices by contract, and the entirely practicable supervision of sales of their products by the companies to which they sell could keep thousands of handguns from diversion into criminal use.”

    Hope you have a lovely day today.

  2. ZHENG Xi (Brooke) says:

    Thanks for drawing people’s attention to the responsibility of armament inventors and manufacturers by this interesting post.

    It is important for us to notice that several attempts to regulate private manufacturers of arms at international level have been made and, unfortunately, failed. From my point of view, the difficulty of reaching an agreement by states to strictly regulate private manufacturers of arms lays in the essence of this specific type of product. Arms have two sides, to protect oneself and to harm another. They are invented to hurt and kill, while they are also protective measures. On one hand, states do not want other states to have more advanced arms; nor do they want abuses of arms in their own society. On the other hand, states have the need to constantly update and expand their arms in order to be secure against other states. Therefore, it is hard to regulate the manufacture of this type of product.

    However, this does not mean that we should not regulate the manufacture of arms. I think that not only the transfer but also the manufacture should be regulated in order to achieve a better result of arms control in terms of conventional arms. It is reasonable to consider a more effective way to regulate these arms being put regulations on both transfer and manufacture. The existing international legal instruments are mainly dealing with the transfer part of arms control. Even though several international legal instruments concern about the regulation of the trade and transfer of conventional arms, illicit trade and use of these weapons are still responsible to most death during conflicts. This demonstrates that the legal instruments are not so effective.

    If manufacturers are under legal obligations to keep record and track of their manufacturings and refrain from producing weapons which bring more suffering and post more threats to public and international security, I believe, the abuse of these weapons will be further reduced. This is not to suggest that manufacturers should be held fully responsible for the abusive use of their products, rather to put reasonable amount of responsibilities on manufacturers when they invent or produce more weapons. Non-binding suggestive or aspirational documents would not have substantive influence on the behaviour of arms manufactures who care more about money. Therefore, a binding international legal instrument is needed.


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