Detour through Darfur: Canada’s exports reveal the trouble with tracking arms

Kenneth Epps Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2011 Volume 32 Issue 2

Canada has made laudable efforts in recent years to support African security forces conducting peacekeeping operations under adverse conditions in Sudan’s Darfur region. Contributions have included donations of security equipment and services. The different methods and routes Canada has used to send equipment to peacekeeping troops in Sudan illustrate the complexities of arranging and monitoring international arms transfers. They also expose one of the core challenges to negotiating an effective global Arms Trade Treaty.

Since 2004 the Canadian government has provided transportation and other equipment to the security forces of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and the subsequent African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The largest equipment shipments1 have been:

  • Armoured vehicles, shipped from Canada in 2005 to Senegal, and then to Sudan. Surplus Canadian Forces vehicles—100 Grizzly personnel carriers and five Husky recovery vehicles manufactured by General Motors Canada—were supplied on loan to the armed forces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Senegal. Under Operation Augural, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) provided training for the troops operating the armoured vehicles. The vehicles were used for Darfur peacekeeping operations until June 30, 2009.
  • 24 MRAP (Mine resistant and ambush protected) vehicles for police forces from Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Uganda to use in Darfur. The MRAP vehicles were built in South Africa and shipped to the three African states in 2009 and 2010. When related equipment and operator and maintenance training are included, the MRAP vehicles cost more than $35-million (Pugliese 2009).
  • Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, leased from private operators. Canada spent over $95-million on the charter of up to 25 helicopters and two AN 74 transport aircraft from September 2004 to early 2007.2 The aircraft were manufactured in Russia, Canada, and elsewhere and their transfer to Sudan was arranged by the operators. Although the aircraft provided airlift capacity for AMIS and UNAMID troops, they were piloted by civilians. The arrangement is an example of private sector provision of military support equipment and services.

Reporting and monitoring shipments
In submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms from 2005 to 2008, Canada reported “100 Grizzly APC [armoured personnel carriers] are on loan to African Union mission in Darfur, Sudan” as part of the background information on Canadian military holdings. When the period of their loan ended in 2009, the armoured vehicles—98 Grizzlies and five Husky armoured recovery vehicles—were shipped from Sudan to Uruguay. (Two Grizzlies were destroyed during the peacekeeping missions.) Canada reported the transfer to Uruguay (via Sudan) to the UN Register.3

Canadian shipments of the armoured vehicles thus were made transparent by the reports to the UN Register. From the Register records it is possible to independently monitor reported arms transfers, even if this must occur after the fact.

In the case of the MRAP vehicles, Canada appears to have operated like an arms broker, arranging financing and shipment details without producing or holding the shipped equipment. Although the vehicles are military armoured vehicles, Canada did not report the donated vehicles to the UN Register or in Canadian reports on military exports. As the supplier, South Africa documented the transfer of six GILA MRAP vehicles to Burkina Faso and 12 vehicles to Senegal in its submission to the UN Register for 2009. (The six vehicles for Uganda may yet be reported by South Africa in future submissions to the UN Register.)

The three recipients have not reported the import of the MRAP vehicles from South Africa. Nor have they reported their subsequent shipment to Sudan, although the UN Register does not require reports of transfers if the exporting state retains title and control of the equipment. (If the vehicles were left in Sudan and title transferred to another state, however, this would constitute an export.) It is also unlikely that the African states will report the return of the MRAP vehicles to their home territory. As a result, the movements of the armoured vehicles from South Africa to the three African operators and then to and from Sudan have been, at best, only partially transparent.

According to a 2010 release from the Canadian government, following the six-month deployment of Ugandan police and vehicles to Sudan that year, “the Government of Uganda will have the choice of using the vehicles and equipment to extend the deployment or take part in other peacekeeping missions around the world” (Government of Canada 2010). For the moment, the vehicles remain in Sudan with the security forces of the three African states, all of which have renewed their peacekeeping commitments in Darfur. Despite the conditions set by the Canadian government, however, it is not clear how future use or repatriation of the vehicles will be monitored and reported.

There are important concerns about repatriation of the vehicles in particular. In Uganda, for example, there is a significant risk that following repatriation the GILA vehicles will be used by security forces to repress legitimate political opposition to a less-than-democratic government. Human rights monitors have reported the recent use of armoured vehicles by Ugandan police and soldiers to attack demonstrators (Human Rights Watch 2011). Canada thus may provide equipment to protect human rights in one country, only to risk subsequent human rights violations with the same equipment in another country.

Concurrently with the armoured vehicle shipments, Canada chartered aircraft in Darfur to supply troops and to assist military medical evacuation. (DFAIT has cited at least one occasion in 2007 when a Mil MI-8 helicopter was used to evacuate Nigerian AMIS peacekeepers that had been wounded during an attack on their camp by rebels.) Because the aircraft were leased, they will be removed from Sudan by their operators when the contracts are completed. The chartered aircraft do not fall within the categories of the UN Register. Canada also does not document leased equipment in its report on Canadian military exports, particularly if, as in this case, the equipment is certified as civilian, regardless of military end-users.

Indeed, Canada has no mechanism to report the transfer of chartered helicopters for military end-use. In the case of Darfur, Canada reported the costs to hire helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to support the African Union peacekeeping troops, but did not report the number or nature of the cross-border transfers involved. This is not unusual. Currently, there is little to no transparency in the international movement of equipment owned by private security firms.

Transfer transactions

The equipment provided by Canada for peacekeeping missions in Darfur illustrates some of the many types of transaction used to transfer equipment between and among states for military end-use. The Grizzly and Husky armoured vehicle shipments are illustrative of government-to-government transfers as loaned equipment. Canada retained ownership of the armoured vehicles  in Sudan, and subsequently transferred title when the vehicles were shipped to Uruguay.

The MRAP shipments also were government-to-government transfers, but as donated equipment. Titles to the MRAP vehicles were transferred to Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Uganda. Canada sponsored the use of the vehicles in Sudan. 

The chartering of aircraft illustrates the growing use of equipment owned and operated by private contractors for military missions. Private security actors within military operations have created many grey areas of responsibility, particularly in situations involving armed conflict. This includes responsibility for authorizing and reporting transfers of military equipment.

States use many types of transaction to legitimately transfer military goods to other states. These include imports, exports, transit and transshipment of goods through intermediate states, as well as transfers arising from sales, gifts, loans, leasing, and military aid.

Actors include state officials as well as private agents such as brokers, transporters, and financial backers. Illicit and irresponsible arms traders may rely on parallel or even overlapping actors and agencies to conduct arms transfers. To reduce criminal weapons transfers and better control the international trade in military goods, all transactions and actors must be effectively regulated, and decisions to authorize arms transfers, as well as arms deliveries, should be reported in a transparent manner. 

Preliminary meetings to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty have included discussions of scope, which is taken to include not only the range of weapons, components, ammunition, and services to be included in the treaty, but also the range of transactions used to transfer military equipment among states. As illustrated by Canada’s equipment transfers to support peacekeeping operations in Sudan, the type, source, and route of military equipment from one state to another can vary widely. To prevent loopholes that will be used by criminal and irresponsible arms traders, Arms Trade Treaty negotiations must reach a comprehensive interpretation of scope.

Treaty provisions must ensure that all equipment transferred for use by security forces is appropriately authorized, tracked, and reported.


1. DND also supplied other equipment such as helmets.

2. This does not include $23-million spent by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) on aviation fuel and temporary police stations near IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. Sources of cost estimates are from a Government of Canada press release, November 25, 2004 and CIDA Project Browser.

3. The figures reported to the UN Register do not correspond to the data from Report on the Export of Military Goods from Canada 2007-2009 by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT). Although DFAIT reported recent shipments of Item 2-6 goods (ground vehicles and components) to Uruguay, they were valued at $1,256,960 during 2007 and $150,000 during 2008. The report identified no shipments of military goods to Uruguay in 2009.


Government of Canada. 2010. “Canada and the Netherlands supplies vehicles and equipment to Uganda Police for Darfur Peacekeeping.” Press release, February 9.

Human Rights Watch. 2011. “Uganda: Launch Independent Inquiry into Killings. May 8.

Pugliese, David. 2009. David Pugliese’s Defence Watch, Ottawa Citizen, October 7.

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