2012 will see the UK government sending arms sales delegations to countries who use violent repression against protestors. The news has been condemned by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
Countries include traditional customers such as Saudi Arabia and Libya as well as less prominent markets, including Kazakhstan and Nigeria.
Mission delegations include arms company executives and are organised by UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government's arms sales promotion unit. The unit is part of Vince Cable's Department for Business.
Arms export guidelines state that licences will only be granted if the importer country can meet certain conditions including respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the preservation of regional peace, security and stability.
Yet many of the countries where UKTI DSO is scheduled to visit or to participate in exhibitions violate these guidelines. Several countries have poor human rights records, including Colombia, India, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the UK continues to export arms to Bahrain and Egypt, countries with proven human rights abuses against civilian protesters.
On 15 December security forces in Bahrain were documented using tear gas and stun grenades against anti-government protesters while hundreds of activists remain in detention. Earlier in 2010, the Saudi armed forces sent British-made armoured vehicles into Bahrain to help the Bahraini regime suppress peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.
In Egypt, state-sponsored violence against protesters is a daily occurrence, but the UK continues to license weaponry.
On 21 November, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the violence was "of great concern" while simultaneously stating that the UK would "not be taking sides". On 12 December, junior Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt stated that there would be no arms embargo on Egypt.
"In the past weeks we have seen video evidence of police violence against protesters in Kazakhstan while there is continuing concern about the actions of security forces in Nigeria,” said CAAT's spokesperson, Kaye Stearman, “Meanwhile daily violence continues in Bahrain and Egypt, yet the UK still exports weapons to both countries”.
Stearman said that British ministers seemed to have learnt nothing from the Arab Spring and the “overthrow of abusive rulers bolstered by western weaponry”. She explained, “The government revoked some arms export licences but arms sales missions continue, with authoritarian regimes among the prime targets”.
CAAT urged the government to break with past practice and to stop arms sales to all authoritarian regimes, in the Middle East and elsewhere.