SHIPPING | Amnesty own goal

Lloyd’s List Reporter

AMNESTY International has for nearly 50 years devoted itself to campaigning for human rights abuses and in favour of compliance with international law.

While its work rarely features in our pages, last week we had occasion to cover a recent Amnesty International report on the role of transport companies in the international arms trade. Three shipping concerns were mentioned by name for involvement in the carriage of weapons and munitions to regimes that are not to everyone’s taste.

In particular, Amnesty highlights the movement of cluster bombs, undoubtedly a particularly nasty example, and points out that such shipments contravene the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The obvious snag in this argument is that the convention does not come into force until August 1 2010, and that the shipments took place in 2008 and 2009. Whatever one’s moral stance on this issue, carriers can hardly be held in breach of an agreement that did not apply at the material times.

At the end of the day, operators are within their rights to handle such cargoes as they are not explicitly prohibited from handling by the relevant authorities. It is the remit of governments to specify what those commodities are.

We are entirely happy to see cluster bombs join that list of banned goods next month. But Amnesty International would have more credibility if it recognised that such strictures cannot be retrospective.



Filed under Lloyd's List

6 responses to “SHIPPING | Amnesty own goal

  1. M

    If you’re going to accuse an organisation of getting its facts wrong, perhaps you should check your own first.

    Amnesty’s report – URL below – doesn’t argue that the cluster bomb shipments it discusses were in contravention of the Cluster Munition Convention. Rather, it points out that the UK unilaterally passed legislation in October 2008 (and entered into force in April 2009) which places controls on the shipping and other transportation of certain kinds of weapons. As Amnesty says, this legislation “effectively prohibits UK individuals and companies, including UK-registered companies, from doing “any act calculated to promote the supply or delivery” of a range of prohibited weapons, including cluster munitions and their components, “where that person knows or has
    reason to believe that such action or actions will, or may, result in the removal of those goods from one third country to another third country.”

    And the shipments described in Amnesty’s report – which took place in April 2009 and February 2010, after the UK legislation came into force – were carried on UK-flagged ships, operated by a UK ship management company.

    Rather than accusing Amnesty of getting its facts wrong, perhaps you should be alerting UK shippers to the passage of a UK law that directly affects them.

    • Dear M.,

      Let me get a few things straight, for safety reasons:

      1. I am against cluster bombs. Period.

      2. I did not intend to attack Amnesty. I just reproduced an article on a theme that drew my attention.

      3. In the case you brought to discussion, I agree that Amnesty referred to UK rather than international law. On the other hand, there is no clear evidence that Zodiac broke the law, as Amnesty admitted in the report.

      In short, the case probably requires investigation, as it looks quite murky to me.

      One last word: next time, ask about someone’s intentions before passing judgment on them.

      Best regards,


  2. Rae McGrath

    When Lloyd’s List gets its facts so totally wrong it is important it corrects them. Since October 2008 it has been a serious offence under UK law to supply or deliver cluster munitions … these are the kind of facts I would expect you to check before criticising Amnesty. It’s bad enough shooting the messenger, but when you don’t even bother checking the message first it’s just plain unprofessional. I look forward to reading your apology and perhaps a short (and accurate) article on the cluster munition treaty and why it is so important would be a good idea.

    • Dear Rae,

      I have dealt with some of the issues your comment brings forward in my reply to M, above.

      There are a few points of your commentary that cannot go unresponded, I believe.

      One of the reasons I have this blog is because it is a learning tool. Another is sharing.

      What I did was to bring to the broader public an article on a theme that drew my attention. The point was to share, not to make any point whatsoever — and that does not seem ‘unprofessional’ to me.

      I am sorry to disappoint you, but I will not apologize for sharing.

      Further, I will not write an article on the cluster ammunition treaty: I think it is inappropriate to write a text on something I know very little about. But I would be glad to share an article of yours.

      Finally, I suggest you express your dissent to he is the editor of Lloyd’s List.

      Best regards,


  3. Oliver Sprague

    Hi Alexandre

    Thank you for sharing the link!!!!!

    I think both M and Rae’s comments were directed at LLoyds and not at you, thats how i read them anyway, am sure they both were not criticising you in anyway

    FYI i have already written to Tom Leander asking for a correction.

    The issue here is not the case in question, but an editorial that makes a serious factual errors about existing legislation covering UK entities.

    Oliver Sprague
    Amnesty International UK

    • Dear Mr Sprague,

      Thanks for your time and attentiveness!

      You need not worry: no offence taken.

      I have great respect for the work of Amnesty and I will be glad to co-operate with you in the future.

      Best regards to all of you!


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