Bishops denounce arms sales loopholes - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
May 30, 2005

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Bishops denounce arms sales loopholes

-30/05/05

Four senior Church of England bishops are urging Tony Blairís new Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson, to change the law so that British arms will no longer be sold to dictatorial and war mongering regimes.

The Rt Rev John Saxbee (Bishop of Lincoln), the Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby (Worcester), the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis (Hereford) and the Rt Rev John Packer (Ripon and Leeds) highlight as an example of the current unacceptable situation the illicit transfer of military Land Rovers to Uzbekistan for use in its recent massacre.

ìThe government should be rightly congratulated for all its work for a global arms trade treatyî, the bishops say in a letter published in todayís Guardian newspaper.

But they point out that until such an agreement is in place the government has an obligation to ensure that ìmilitary equipment is not allowed to slip out of its back door for use by dictatorial regimes.î

Requesting that Mr Johnson ìact swiftly to change the law to stop more people being killedî, the bishops say that they have been urging the government to remove loopholes in the arms export law ìfor yearsî.

Up to 500 unarmed men, women and children were shot dead in Andijan, Uzbekistan, on 13 May 2005. Photographic evidence revealed soldiers taking cover beside Land Rover Defender vehicles as they confronted demonstrators.

The Department for Trade and Industry has said that no evidence has been received that the jeeps came from the UK or that they included British components. However, they are believed to have been produced using largely British parts in Turkey.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade, which works with churches and Christian groups alongside NGO and development organisations, has long argued for more stringent policing of ëend user certificatesí.

At the forthcoming G8 summit British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will push for an arms trade treaty banning sales of any weapon that could be used against civilians. This would prevent exports to Uzbekistan, which the United Nations has condemned for "systematic" use of torture.

Umbrella organisation the UK Working Group on Arms, which also includes Amnesty International, has also written to Mr Johnson, saying that the Andijan massacre had realised its worst fear and that the time for government action against end-user loopholes is now.

The Anglican bishops, whose voices are now amplifying this concern, wish to see controls introduced on military equipment produced under license in other countries, as well as proper checks on subsequent transfer and end use.

The governmentís culture of intimacy with corporate interests behind the promotion and sale of weapons was criticised during the recent election campaign. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cookís attempts at an ìethical foreign policyî in 1997 were rapidly ridiculed and undermined by commercial and political interests.

Anna Jones, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, recently commented: ìUnder the Labour government, as with previous administrations, itís been business as usual for arms exports to repressive regimes and conflict zones. The new incumbents to 10 Downing Street should put the public interest first and remove the mechanisms, like the írevolving doorí, which allow arms companies to capture arms export policy.î

Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson has this weekend been preoccupied with the question of whether to launch a full-scale government investigation into the collapse of carmaker MG Rover, which has liabilities of some £1.8 billion.

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