Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Traders in Death

An arms sales watchdog,  Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (Birn), has accused the UK government of a serious failure to disclose intelligence that could save the lives of thousands of people involved in ongoing global conflicts.

Birn highlighted the dangers of the “diversion” of arms and ammunition legally supplied to Saudi Arabia but then passed on to third-party “proxy fighters” including terror groups, and said the practice was fuelling conflicts.

The allegation relates to applications for standard individual trade control licences submitted to the Department for International Trade (DIT) in 2014 by two unnamed UK arms brokers. The applications sought government approval for the brokers to act as intermediaries in an arms deal involving 30m rounds of ammunition – including 13,492,927 AK-47 bullets and 3,063,276 rounds of sniper ammunition – to be supplied by arms manufacturers in Bosnia to the Saudi government, which was listed as the “end user”. At the same time, the Bosnian government received an arms export licence application for the same consignment, which it began processing.

The DIT, which normally processes applications within 20 days, considered the applications under the EU and national arms export licensing criteria, which allows for applications to be rejected if they relate to the supply of armaments to countries under embargos or sanctions or where it is believed that the “end user” will divert the weapons to terrorists or criminals in countries such as Yemen or South Sudan.
In this case the UK government took 14 months to investigate before deciding to reject the applications, citing the reason for refusal as “a determination that the stated end user was not the intended recipient” and that there was “an unacceptable risk that the items would be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions”.
It is alleged in the report that suspicions surrounding the consignment arose as a result of establishing that the Saudi army does not use AK-47 assault rifles, and therefore the 13m bullets that formed part of the consignment were likely to be diverted to proxy fighters engaged in the Yemen conflict. The Bosnian government was not told of the DIT’s suspicions and approved the export licence, allowing the ammunition to reach Saudi Arabia in two parts in November 2015 and January 2016.
Birn questioned why the UK government failed to notify the Bosnian government of its suspicions and refusal of the brokering licences. The FoI response stated: “Bosnia-Herzegovina is not party to the European Union mechanism of denial notifications. Consequently, there is no established mechanism through which the Export Control Organisation could have informed the Bosnian authorities.”
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle told the Observer: “At best the UK government is turning a blind eye to arms exports to Islamist groups in Syria; at worst it is complicit in these transfers. Despite the government’s boiler-plate comments that it is robust, something is very badly wrong with Britain’s arms control regime.” Russell-Moyle asked why, having previously been warned by US and EU authorities that the 30m rounds of ammunition were likely to be diverted, the department had “missed the chance to stop the ammunition from getting into the hands of Isis and other Islamist groups”. Russell-Moyle quoted two further failures, in 2013 and 2014, reported by Birn, in which licences were approved in for armaments that were subject to diversion despite the government being warned in advance.

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