UK arms dealing at odds with human rights stance

The UK government has approved more than 3,000 export licences for military sales to countries which it believes have questionable records on human rights.   The House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls says the value of the existing export licences to the 27 countries in question exceeds £12bn. This includes significant sales to China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. And sales to Sri Lanka raise “very serious questions”.

There were more than 60 licences for Iran, including components for military electronics and what is described as “equipment employing cryptography”. Similar equipment figured prominently in China’s £1.4bn worth of licences, which also included some small arms ammunition, even though there is a European Union arms embargo on Beijing.

Arms licences to Sri Lanka included pistols, small arms ammunition and approval for the sale of 600 assault rifles.

A recent report urges the UK government to look again at all the 134 existing UK export licences to Egypt to ensure that they do not breach the current policy, which is not to issue licences where it feels “there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression”.

The report concludes: “Whilst the promotion of arms exports and the upholding of human rights are both legitimate government policies, the government would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time, rather than claiming, as the government continues to do, that these two policies ‘are mutually reinforcing’.”

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