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Double standards and dodgy arms deals threaten UK global standing

11th Sep 2017

UK's seeming refusal to find an end to Yemen's suffering makes mockery of Government's promises says Oxfam

The UK government's double standards on arms will be exposed today as it talks arms control in Geneva while hosting one of the world's largest arms sales fairs with invites to representatives of some of the worse repressive regimes in the world, said Oxfam.

Nowhere is the UK's doubling dealing so blatant as in Yemen, where the UK continues to sell arms that fuel the war but funds the aid efforts to help those suffering, added the international agency.

Today's London opening of DESI (Defence & Security Equipment International), coincides with the annual meeting of signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty and comes as the UK continues to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite a bombing campaign in Yemen that has fuelled famine and cholera and driven the country to the brink of collapse.

Sally Copley, Oxfam GB's Head of Campaigns said:

"Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, suffering from a borderline famine and hit by the world's largest cholera epidemic which shows no sign of abating. Yet the deaths, the destruction and the misery seem to count for nothing. Since the war began not one licence to export arms to Saudi Arabia has been rejected by the Government.

"When you are witness to the suffering in Yemen it is hard to understand or excuse how the UK government talks the talk on arms control while it walks the walk of arms sales. It helped push through and signed up to an international arms control law, the Arms Trade Treaty, that it intended to stop arms going to repressive regimes but it continues to sell arms to some of the world's worse human rights abusers.

"Nowhere is this so brazenly apparent than in the case of £3.6bn worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia for its bombing campaign in Yemen. On the one hand it fuels a war with massive arms sales while it sends aid to help the people it is harming. Neither do we seem to be working on a credible plan for peace.

"Our call to the government is clear: Britain's reputation on the global stage demands that you stop being an arms broker and start being a peace broker. Stop the arms sales and push for a cease-fire"

The Saudi Arabia arms sales are among the largest, but it is not the only country with a dubious human rights record to which the UK government sells arms. Last year the government approved arms exports worth over £3bn to 21 countries that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office consider to have human rights concerns. These include Bahrain, which has been accused of wide spread abuse of protesters and Uzbekistan where 1000s of political prisoners are incarcerated, torture is practiced and whose human rights record is described as 'abysmal'. The UK has sold £4.5m arms to Uzbekistan since the Arms Trade Treaty came into force.

Oxfam call comes as over 100 countries gather in Geneva for the 3rd Conference of States Parties of the Arms Trade Treaty to report on progress made in implementing the Treaty as well as examining challenges and concerns. A main theme of the conference will be how implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty can help achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating poverty. Other important themes are the need for better reporting of arms transfers, and there will be challenges to transfers that breach the ATT, including those to Saudi-led coalition countries for use in their war in Yemen.

At the same time the DSEI takes place in London's Docklands. Thousands of delegates will see the arms and equipment for sale from hundreds of companies at the invitation of the UK government. Despite UK membership of the arms trade treaty, which is aimed at stopping arms sales to countries which commit war crimes or abuse human rights, many countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices's own list of countries of human rights concern will be in London inspecting guns, tanks, missiles and other arms with an eye to buy.

For more information contact: Christina Corbett 07557 483758 or 07398 765328

Notes to editors:

Oxfam is calling on the UK government to:

  • Suspend both current and future licensing of UK arm sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, and properly apply the Arms Trade Treaty in future licensing decisions. 
  • Support a new United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire and increase pressure on warring parties and their international allies to return to the negotiating table and set up a peace process.