The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) today (18 February) condemned the government's reaction to revelations about UK arms exports to regimes using violence against peaceful demonstrators.
Foreign Secretary William Hague promised a review of arms exports to the Middle East and north Africa after it was revealed that the UK government had granted export licenses for crowd control weapons to Bahrain and Libya. Both countries’ governments have used weapons against unarmed protestors in recent days.
But UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of the Department for Business, is still planning to attend IDEX, the Middle East’s largest arms fair, which starts on Sunday (20 February) in the United Arab Emirates. The UK arms dealers’ trade body ADS claims that ten per cent of exhibitors will be from the UK.
CAAT accused Hague of using “empty words” while continuing to allow arms exports to the region. They said the government and UK companies should withdraw from the Middle East arms fair.
They called for an immediate arms embargo to the region, for a thorough review of why such exports were ever licensed in the first place and for fundamental reform to the UK's “irresponsible” arms export policy.
As recently as last year, the government approved the export of goods including tear gas, crowd control ammunition and sniper rifles to Bahrain and Libya, as well as a wide range of other military equipment to authoritarian regimes in the region.
“It is astounding that the government is still insisting it has a responsible arms export policy while, in the same breath, admitting that it was happy to supply authoritarian regimes with the means to crush dissent,” argued Sarah Waldron of CAAT.
She insisted that, “Far from seeking to restrain arms sales, the UK government actively promotes them. While this policy stands there is no prospect of meaningful arms control. The UK must cancel its participation in the IDEX arms fair this weekend, end its irresponsible arms exports and stop using taxpayers' money to promote arms sales”.
Earlier today, the thinktank Ekklesia suggested that the sale of arms to Bahrain and Libya raised concerns about the UK government’s commitment to the development of democracy in the Middle East and north Africa. They encouraged ministers to heed calls for an arms embargo.