Nearly a third of arms exports authorised by Britain over the past decade were to nations identified by the government as among the worst for human rights, new figures reveal.
Military arms deals worth an estimated £39bn were approved between 2008 and 2017, £12bn of which went to states included on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights “priority countries” list, according to analysis by Action on Armed Violence. The only country on the 30-strong watchlist to which Britain did not approve arms export deals was North Korea. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Colombia, all countries on the FCO watchlist, were among the DTI’s “core markets” for defence and security opportunities for 2017-18.
In total, 5,782 export licences for military items in countries of concern were approved last year, worth £1.5bn, up from 2,477, worth £820m, in 2016.
In 2017, there were 855 military licence approvals for Saudi, worth £1.3bn, compared with 331, worth £680m, the previous year. While 2018 was not included in the study, the British deal to supply 48 Eurofighter Typhoons to Saudi Arabia, reported earlier this year, is worth £5bn alone, a value that dwarfs previous agreements. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s second largest arms dealer after the US, providing military exports worth £10.3bn over the past decade despite continued condemnation of the kingdom’s use of British weaponry in its bombing of Yemen. UN agencies allege that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has violated international humanitarian standards, including widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets.
British arms exports were also approved to many countries with weapon sales restrictions imposed by the UN, the EU or both. These include China, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Russia. The DIT said it respects both EU and UN arms embargoes, but that it may send items not defined as weaponry to peacekeepers in such countries.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the Commons committee on arms exports control, said: “Approving sales of powerful surveillance equipment to regimes that hunt and kill journalists, or planes and bombs to dictators who use them on schools and hospitals, is a clear-cut violation of UK arms export control law. The government contempt for the law has inevitably resulted in UK arms exports enabling human rights abuses worldwide.”