MPs question government's arms sales to repressive regimes

By staff writers
October 18, 2012

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has welcomed a report by MPs into the human rights work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But CAAT urged MPs to go further in challenging the contradictions between human rights policies and arms exports.

CAAT has consistently focused attention on UK arms sales to the repressive regimes in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Libya. While the report examines important questions and made recommendations on all three countries, CAAT said they feared its impact would be limited.

The report, from the Foreign Affairs Committee, calls on the government to acknowledge the contradictions in its business policy on arms sales and human rights and to “explain its judgments on how far to balance the two in particular cases.”

While CAAT would welcome greater transparency, they do not believe that it would result in significant changes in government policy. CAAT believes that the two aims are irreconcilable and that the UK should immediately stop all weapons sales to abusive regimes.

In written evidence to the FAC, CAAT had outlined the position of Saudi Arabia as the major customer for UK arms sales in the region, despite its dreadful human rights record and its military intervention in Bahrain in March 2011. On that occasion, Saudi troops used British-made Tactica armoured vehicles to assist the Bahraini regime to suppress peaceful pro-democracy protests.

CAAT also expressed dismay that Libya was reinstated on the list despite the upheavals of 2011 and the continuing instability in the country.

The FAC's report noted that both Saudi Arabia and Libya were classified as “priority markets” for arms exports by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), despite being listed as “countries of concern” in the FCO Human Rights report. It stated that there should be greater information sharing between ministers in BIS and the FCO on the list of priority markets.

But CAAT says that this suggestion does not go far enough. They believe that the real problem is government promotion of arms sales. They say they are “disappointed that the report did not address this question”.

The report noted that Bahrain was not listed as a “country of concern” despite its appalling human rights record and suppression of democratic protest. However, the FAC has recommended that Bahrain should be included as a “country of concern”, a position supported by CAAT.

In February 2011, in response to the Bahrain government's brutal repression of protest, the UK government revoked 44 arms licences. But by June, arms sales had resumed. On 10 October 2012 the UK signed a new 'defence' agreement with Bahrain. This will inevitably result in even closer military cooperation and further arms sales.

Kaye Stearman of CAAT said it was good that the FAC's report had noted “major concerns about the UK's political and military relationship with these three countries – Saudi Arabia, Libya and Bahrain – and the contradiction between the UK government policy of supposedly supporting human rights in the region while promoting arms sales”.

She added, “We urge the FAC to continue to question the government on arms sales to repressive regimes”.


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