The Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) report on strategic export controls has highlighted the urgent need for the UK to better identify the risk of arms transfers being used for repression or to commit human rights violations, according to the UK Control Arms Coalition.
The Coalition – comprising Amnesty International, Oxfam and Saferworld – said that while the unprecedented number of licences revoked after the Arab Spring is welcome, it only underlines that the current system inadequately assesses risk in the first place.
Roy Isbister, arms transfer specialist at Saferworld, said: “While many licences have been revoked since the Arab Spring, it’s not clear that anything has changed in how the UK’s export licensing system assesses risk as a result.
“There needs to be a presumption of denial for licences to high-risk or authoritarian regimes unless there are specific, identified security issues that the transfers would address. Even then, if there is a long-term risk of human rights violations, the transfer should be denied.
“With the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations on-going in New York, there is the opportunity for the UK government to show real leadership by example – improving its own arms export processes as a matter of urgency.”
Anna Macdonald, Oxfam’s Head of Arms Control, said: “The MPs are absolutely right. The UK should be far more vigilant in their risk assessment process for arms exports in the future, but the need for global regulation of the international arms trade is just as acute with thousands of people killed, maimed or made poor by irresponsible arms deals every day.
“And that is why it is absolutely vital that the current negotiations on the world's first Arms Trade Treaty, taking in place in New York right now, agree the strongest possible text. They must deliver a bullet-proof Treaty that will stop arms deals fuelling conflict, human rights abuses and the kind of atrocities unfolding in Syria.”
Amnesty International’s UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said: “At this crucial time when talks are on-going for the world’s first Arms Trade Treaty, MP's have issued a stark reminder that the UK Government has to also get its own house in order on arms export controls."
He concluded: "In order that the UK and other countries do not repeat recent past mistakes of irresponsible arms sales to the Middle East region, the UK must not accept anything less than a Treaty that contains binding cast iron rules that will prevent any transfer of weapons if there is a substantial risk that they would be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations, on this there must be no compromise."