Blood money: UK’s £12.3bn arms sales to repressive states

Kim Sengupta, “Blood money: UK’s £12.3bn arms sales to repressive states,” The Independent, 17 July 2013


The Government has issued more than 3,000 export licences for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which are on its own official list for human rights abuses.

The existence of one licence to Israel and the Occupied Territories has not been made public until today. Worth £7.7bn, it relates to cryptographic equipment, which has dual defence and civilian use.

The scale and detail of the deals emerged after a forensic investigation by a committee of MPs, who also discovered that strategically controlled items have been sent to Iran, China, Sri Lanka, Russia, Belarus and Zimbabwe – all of which feature prominently on the Foreign Office’s list of states with worrying civil rights records.

There are even three existing contracts for Syria, notwithstanding the fact that the UK is sending equipment to rebels fighting the Assad regime and is considering arming them. There are also 57 for Argentina, which is not on the list, but which remains in confrontation with Britain over the Falklands. …

However, the report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls found there were 62 licences for selling to Iran, again overwhelmingly cryptographic equipment. This also features heavily in the 271 licences for Russia, along with biotechnology equipment, sniper rifles, laser weapons systems, weapon sights and unmanned air vehicles (drones). …

The suppliers to China have the largest numbers of licences, with 1,163 worth £ 1.8bn. As well as cryptographic equipment, this includes direct military communications equipment, body armour and weapons sights.

The committee urged the Government to examine whether this infringes the EU’s arms embargo on Beijing and whether it should, in fact, seek to expand the embargo to include all military goods. …

Only two states of 27 on the Foreign Office’s human rights list – North Korea and South Sudan –did not have licences to their names. Among the others, Saudi Arabia has 417 licences with a value of £1.8bn; Pakistan 219 worth almost £50m; Sri Lanka 49 at £8m and Zimbabwe 46, worth just under £3m.

Sir John Stanley, the chairman of the committee and a former Defence minister, said he had decided to carry out the inquiry into arms licences after the Foreign Office began to publish its human rights reports. He added: “When I first wrote to Vince Cable [the Business Secretary] I had no idea that the figures involved would be so large – I thought someone may have added some zeros by mistake; £12bn is an absolutely huge sum. I asked Vince Cable to confirm they were accurate and, apart from a small adjustment for Iran, they all were.

“We shall continue to seek more clarification from the Government. We would like to know, for example, whether the cryptographic equipment can be used on internal dissent, and its possible military use.

“There are other, quite clear areas of concern; 600 assault rifles were sold to Sri Lanka, despite the very well documented cases of human rights abuse there. We have to ask the Government why this is the case.

“The Government needs to acknowledge that there’s an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time. Instead they continue to claim these two policies ‘are mutually reinforcing’.”

Read the full article here.

Original report

There are over 3,000 Government approved export licences, worth more than £12 billion, for strategic controlled goods going to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 27 Countries of Human Rights concern say MPs.