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Blood money: Human rights abuses no obstacle to UK's £12bn arms trade with repressive regimes

More than 3,000 current export licences for arms and military equipment worth more than £12bn have been approved for 27 countries classified by the Foreign Office as "of concern" because of their poor human rights record, a cross-party group of MPs reveals on Wednesday.

Countries for which significant sales have been approved include Israel - the destination of the bulk of the arms sales - Saudi Arabia, China, and Zimbabwe, according to the arms export controls committee's annual report, drawn up by MPs from four separate select committees.

The chairman of the committee, the former Conservative defence minister Sir John Stanley, said: "The scale of the extant strategic licences to the FCO's 27 countries of human rights concern puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the government's arms exports and human rights policies."

He added: "The government should apply significantly more cautious judgments when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes‚ which might be used to facilitate internal repression‚ in contravention of the government's stated policy."

The approval of nearly 400 arms export licences for "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories", for equipment valued at nearly £8bn, includes components for body armour, parts for "all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection", assault rifles, pistols, military support vehicles, and small arms ammunition.

However, most of the exports in terms of value consisted of cryptographic equipment, used for decoding and encoding communications, the Guardian understands.

More than 400 current export licences to Saudi Arabia include vehicles, components for military communications equipment, crowd-control ammunition, handgrenades, smoke/pyrotechnic ammunition and teargas/irritant ammunition.

For the first time, the arms export controls committee's report gives details for all 27 countries identified by the Foreign Office as being "of human rights concern", the number of existing export licences and the nature of the arms and arms-related goods approved.

In the past, details of the licenses were published by different departments around Whitehall and not collected together.

The total value of the exports is not known because some of them are approved with open-ended licences.

The MPs note the government's insistence that it applies "the same stated policy on arms exports and internal repression to Saudi Arabia as it does to the other states in the region and to states worldwide".

That is, the government "will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression".

However, the MPs say, "that does not appear to have been so in the case of the deployment of Saudi forces in British armoured vehicles to Bahrain to protect installations, thereby enabling Bahraini security forces to end, sometimes violently, predominantly peaceful demonstrations". Demonstrations in Bahrain were suppressed in 2011.

British arms exported to Bahrain under current licences include small arms ammunition, command communications control and intelligence software, technology for command communications control and intelligence software, assault rifles, military communications equipment, pistols, weapon sights, and components for machine guns.

The committee says current export licences for Israel total £7.8bn, for Saudi Arabia £1.8bn, and for China £1.4bn. Exports to China include cryptographic and military communications equipment.

The committee points to potential loopholes in arms export controls.

"It is most regrettable that the government have still to take any action against 'Brass Plate' arms exporting and arms brokering companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK government policies", says Wednesday's report.

The MPs say allowing a UK person to escape UK criminal jurisdiction engaging in arms export or arms brokering activities overseas, which would be a criminal offence if carried out from the UK, cannot be justified.

Source: The Guardian

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