Caught in the Act: H&K Selling Guns to Human Rights Abusers

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Arms company Heckler & Koch has been in the news this week. It seems that H&K, whose international sales office is located in Nottingham, is still in the business of arming regimes that are well known to commit gross violations of human rights. We look at three examples from around the world.

Manipur, India

Victims of police violence: a pregnant woman and an unarmed suspect, executed in a crowded market in Manipur, July 2009.

Ever since the state of Manipur was annexed by India in 1949, there has been armed conflict between separatists and the Indian government. In 1958 the Indian government passed the notorious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives military personnel powers to arrest or kill anyone they want within a so-called “disturbed” area.

The state of Manipur was declared a “disturbed” area, and was heavily militarised, with land across the state being confiscated to set up army camps. There followed decades of grievous human rights abuses, with Indian police and paramilitaries inflicting beatings, rapes, torture, forced labour, disappearances and extrajudicial killings, all the while protected from prosecution by the AFSPA.

Here’s one example: In 2004, Indian troops raided the home of a 32-year old woman called Manorama Devi, whom they suspected to belong to a separatist group. They arrested her and took her away. Her bullet-riddled corpse was found the next day outside a nearby village. She had been tortured and raped, and then shot in her vagina at close range.

Protest in Manipur

Far from quashing the insurgency, this brutal repression has only made it worse. The government’s solution? Buy better guns! And this is where Heckler & Koch comes in. A senior police official has revealed that Manipur police commandos will soon be equipped with 1000 Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, at a cost of around £850000.

Heckler & Koch cannot be unaware of the gross human rights abuses of its latest customers. The situation in Manipur has been documented for many years. However, that would not appear to be an impediment to business.

The Philippines

To discover the connection between Heckler & Koch and the worst ever atrocity against journalists, we have to go to South-East Asia and the Philippines. This archipelago nation has a terrible human rights record, with state security forces practising vigilantism, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Filipino soldiers armed with modern Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles.

Filipino soldiers armed with modern Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles.

The Philippines has also been one of H&K’s best customers. Over the years the Filipino police and military have been equipped with a variety of H&K assault rifles, sniper rifles and submachine guns.

The endemic corruption of the Filipino security forces provides one of the many routes by which H&K weapons flow from the legal arms trade to the black market. Last year, several high-ranking military and police officials were arrested for taking 72 H&K submachine guns from a police depot and selling them to a Taiwanese-led gunrunning syndicate.

The President of the Philippines is Gloria Arroyo. Until very recently, her chief ally in the south of the country was the Ampatuan clan, which ruled province of Maguindanao. The Ampatuans delivered many votes for Arroyo in the 2004 and 2007 General Elections, which were marred by widespread fraud and violence. In return, the Arroyo administration tolerated the Ampatuan clan’s internecine chainsaw murders.

The Ampatuan massacre

The scene of the Ampatuan massacre

On 3rd November 2009, local politician Esmael Mangudadatu sent his wife, accompanied by a convoy of journalists, to file his intention to run for governor against the Ampatuans. The convoy was stopped by police and Ampatuan militiamen, and everyone in it was abducted and killed. Several of the women were raped and then shot in the vagina. More than 30 journalists were slaughtered, making this the deadliest recorded attack on journalists.


In the aftermath of the massacre, an arms cache was discovered next to the mansion of the Ampatuan regional governor. Among the weapons recovered was a Heckler & Koch HK11 machine gun.

Once again, there can be no way that Heckler & Koch is unaware of the state-sponsored violence and corruption in the Philippines. And yet the company has continued to arm the regime with the latest in assault weapons.

The US Marine Corps

During the US-led “War on Terror”, the US Marines have committed numerous war crimes and serious abuses of human rights. Among those that have come to light:

US Marine with H&K submachine gun

US Marine with H&K submachine gun

  • During the 2004 offensives against the Iraqi city of Fallujah, US Marine snipers deliberately shot civilians and medical personnel and vehicles, killing thousands. The Marines’ tactical siege and destruction of the city amounted to collective punishment, which is a war crime.
  • In November 2005, a US Marine unit went on a rampage in the Iraqi town of Haditha, using guns and grenades to slaughter 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians including women, children and old people. When interviewed, US Iraq war veterans described such acts as common, and said they often go unreported and almost always go unpunished. The Marines are responsible for similar massacres in Afghanistan.
  • There has been widespread torture and abuse of detainees by US Marines in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. Documented abuses include beatings, electrocution, burning, sexual abuse and mock executions.

Of course, none of this matters to Heckler & Koch, which stands to profit a great deal from the Marine Corps. H&K already supplies the Marines with submachine guns, and it was announced this week that H&K is almost certain to win a contract to supply the Corps with thousands of state-of-the-art automatic rifles in a deal worth millions of dollars.


In one week, three separate news stories have illustrated how forces that are well known to commit serious human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity are continuing to be armed with modern Heckler & Koch weapons.

These are only the latest examples in a disgraceful history of arming the world’s oppressors. If there is one lesson to be learned from 60 years of Heckler & Koch, it is that the company should not be allowed to reach 61. It should be shut down and its employees tried for complicity in the abuses that they have knowingly profited from.

There is a campaign against Heckler & Koch based in Nottingham called Shut Down H&K. Check the events listing for the next meeting or demonstration, and get involved!

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