Long overdue: access to Belgian arms export licenses issued between 1982 and 2003 granted, with a “bemol”
This was long overdue. First to you, who reads this post. As you will certainly see by examining the letter below, dated from the 10th of September, I did not do my homework on time. I was a little bit busy in Syria, in September, and now busy writing about it - and there is still work on the table.
Long overdue, it was, also to the public record, the common knowledge, and to transparency, accountability and history.
There is a lot to say about the Belgian arms export licenses granted throughout the years. About what they contain, and how they were handled: We will talk in due time. For now, let’s focus on getting access to them. If one wants to know what Belgium - an important and historic European arms producer and exporter - possibly sold to the world, one would turn to those archives the administration has to send to a special office, who gathers them, works on them, and makes them (some of them), available for research.
We encountered several problems while trying to get access to those archives. Once again, allow us to come back at length on this later. For now, the savor of a small victory.
In July 2012, we asked the Belgian Ministry of Economy to be granted access to the Belgian arms export archives from 1983 to 2003, which are not supposed to be public, but which can be accessible if one has a good reason. Well, we had a good reason, and we still do: we want to map the Belgian arms proliferation.
This access was refused to us. We appealed the decision, asking the Ministry to reconsider it, while asking a special Commission to give its advice. In September, the Ministry changed its position, as you can read in the letter it sent to us, granting us access to the archives.
Now, there’s always something bitter in victory, isn’t there? In Belgium, the federal authority was granting arms export licenses until 2003, then it became regional. But there was a first partial regionalization of the competence in 1991. Therefore, the federal archives dated from after 1991 do not bear as many details as the ones dated from before, and another procedure has to be followed now.
Nonetheless, the pre-1991 archives are very interesting, and we’ll need a lot of time to study them. Well, the ones we found. Because, there, too, we could not get access to everything. That’s another story. And we’ll come back to it, later.