The U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) recently announced that it has lifted the arms embargoes against Sri Lanka and Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire). Accordingly, DDTC will begin reviewing applications for licenses to export or temporarily import defense articles and defense services to or from Sri Lanka and Ivory Coast under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) on a case-by-case basis. Although DDTC will formally publish this amendment to the ITAR in the future, the change in policy is effective immediately.

The arms embargo against Sri Lanka had historically been contained in the Consolidated Appropriations Act beginning in 2008. The embargo arose out of U.S. concerns about the political stability of Sri Lanka and human rights issues that arose related to the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in 2009. Accordingly, DDTC adopted a policy of general denial for the transfer of defense articles and services to Sri Lanka, except for technical data or equipment made available for the limited purpose of maritime and air surveillance and communications on a case-by-case basis. The Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2016 did not renew the arms embargo in light of the improved political and security situation, and DDTC has acted to conform its policy accordingly.

The arms embargo against Ivory Coast was based on United Nations Security Council resolutions beginning in 2004, which imposed a global arms embargo on defense articles and services to Ivory Coast (except for certain U.N. or humanitarian uses) due to the instability of the country.  On April 28, 2016, the

U.N. Security Council terminated the arms embargo due to the recent presidential election in Ivory Coast and the increased political stability. Accordingly, since the U.S. arms embargo was based on the U.N. resolutions, DDTC has lifted the U.S. arms embargo.

The lifting of these arms embargoes comes as the Obama administration considers whether to lift the arms embargo against Vietnam that has been in place since 1984.  The U.S. arms embargo against Vietnam remains a sensitive political issue, given concerns about Vietnam’s human rights record and the geopolitical tension in the South China Sea involving China, Vietnam, and their neighbors. In November 2014, DDTC relaxed the comprehensive arms embargo against Vietnam to authorize exports of lethal defense articles and services to Vietnam on a case-by-case basis when the export is in support of maritime security and domain awareness. (See our previous alert.) President Obama will visit Vietnam beginning May 21, 2016.