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Arms campaigners respond to Committee on Arms Export Controls report

18th Jul 2013

The UK government must urgently explain why it is issuing licences for the sale of lethal weapons to repressive regimes including those on its own list of countries of human rights concern, Control Arms UK[1] said today.


A damning new report from the UK Parliament Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) published today exposes the extent of arms sales to countries - including Libya and Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia - where they could be used to commit human rights violations.


This revelation comes one month after Foreign Minister Alistair Burt signed the UN's Arms Trade Treaty designed to stop the transfer of arms where they are likely to be used for serious human rights abuses.


The CAEC report finds that there are "over 3,000 [current] Government approved export licences, worth more than £12 billion, for strategic controlled goods going to the FCO's [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] 27 Countries of Human Rights concern".


Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International's arms control expert said:


"Looking at these, the Government's own figures, it would be hard not to conclude that the UK's government's arms sales practices are at odds with its stated policy not to send weapons to anywhere that poses a clear risk that they could be used for human rights violations.


"What is needed now is an urgent explanation of what these licences were actually for, who was going to use them and what assurances were in place to ensure they were not going to be used for human rights violations.  Until there is much greater transparency over exactly what we are selling and to whom, it will be impossible for Parliament or the public to have confidence in the UK's arms sales policies."


The CAEC report states that military equipment including small arms, sniper rifles, crowd control equipment, and in some cases components for man-portable air defence systems (MANPADs) and combat aircraft, have been licensed for export to countries on the FCO list.  Countries to which these transfers are particularly worrying include Egypt, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.


Saferworld's Head of Arms Transfer Controls Roy Isbister said:


"There is reason to question whether the UK government has learned the lessons of the Arab Spring.  Looking at the export licences the Government is still issuing, especially to authoritarian or unstable regimes, including in the Middle East and North Africa region, it's hard to see what has changed. 


"For many of the countries mentioned in the report, there are serious risks that arms or ammunition could be used to undermine human rights, oppress civilian populations, fuel conflict or be diverted elsewhere."


Oxfam's Head of Arms Controls Anna MacDonald said:


"Less than two months ago the UK government pledged  to stop the sale of arms to repressive regimes, but this report shows that it is paying little more than lip service to that promise. It must put its money where its mouth is and stop allowing the sale of weapons to countries where they may be used to kill, injure and torture innocent civilians. "



[1] Control Arms UK includes Action on Armed Violence, Amnesty International, Article 36, the Omega Research Foundation, Oxfam and Saferworld.