More than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export last year to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 “human rights priority countries” – those identified by the government as being where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”, or “where we judge that the UK can make a real difference”. Listed countries that last year bought British arms and military equipment include:
■ Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Yemen.
■ Bahrain, which used troops to quell protests following the Arab spring.
■ Burundi, which is being investigated by the UN for human rights violations.
■ The Maldives, which in 2015 jailed its former president, Mohamed Nasheed, for 13 years following what critics said was a politically motivated show trial.
Figures shared with the Observer show that in 2014 the UK licensed just £170m of arms to 18 of the 27 countries then on the “priority countries” list. The massive increase in sales was largely attributable to sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The largest export licence granted was for £1.7bn of fighter jets, agreed in May 2015. In July 2015 the UK approved the export of £990m of air-to-air missiles. In September, it approved the sale of £62m of bombs to the country. All three sales took place after the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, prompting concerns that civilian buildings have been targeted in widespread human rights violations. …
The UK, the second-largest arms exporter in the world, approved licences for the sale of £7.7bn of arms last year, but its licensing export regime is under acute scrutiny amid fears British weaponry is being routinely used in Yemen. Last week a British-made cluster bomb, dating from the 1980s, was found to have been dropped on a village in Yemen, even though the use and supply of such weapons is banned under international law.
UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes top £3bn a year