The UK nearly doubled the value of arms sales to countries on the government’s list of human rights abusers in the past year, figures reveal.
Licences for arms deals worth some £1.5bn were approved in Whitehall in 2017, up from £820m a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade(CAAT) pressure group.
The value of sales to Saudi Arabia, currently embroiled in a bloody conflict in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels where thousands of civilians have been killed and millions left in need of aid, alone totalled £1.13bn, the group said.
Theresa May’s government is “actively arming and supporting many of the regimes that even it believes are responsible for terrible human rights abuses”, CAAT’s Andrew Smith told The Independent. He added: “There is little oversight in the system, and no controls over how these arms will be used once they have left the UK. The arms sales being agreed today could be used to fuel atrocities for years to come. Right now UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen, and the government and arms companies have totally failed to monitor or evaluate how this deadly equipment is being used. We are always being told how rigorous and robust the system supposedly is, but nothing could be further from the truth. These arms sales don’t just provide dictatorships and human rights abusers with the means to kill, they also give them a huge degree of political support.”
Israel was the second-biggest buyer of UK arms in 2017 to feature on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) human rights priority list, with £221m of licences granted. The FCO condemned Israel’s breaches of international law by its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and also “its systematic policy of settlement expansion”.
Bahrain bought £30.7m of British arms in 2017, Egypt imported £6.5m of arms and Pakistan, £11.2m. Sales to China, which is cracking down further on freedom of speech and religion, totalled £11.8m. In Bangladesh, which bought £38.6m of arms, there were continued “credible reports of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture by government agencies”, the FCO said.