Britain exporting arms to rights violators: lawmakers

 Britain exporting arms to rights violators: lawmakers

by Staff Writers
London (AFP) July 17, 2013

Britain has issued export licences worth £12 billion ($18 billion, 14 billion euros) for the sale of military equipment to states deemed possible rights violators including Syria, Iran and China, lawmakers said Wednesday.

A report by a group of parliamentary committees said that 3,000 licences for arms and other equipment had been issued to nations on the Foreign Office's list of 27 countries of human rights concerns.

The countries for which licences have been issued include Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Belarus and Zimbabwe, the Committees on Arms Export Controls of parliament's lower House of Commons said.

Foreign minister William Hague defended British controls as "among the toughest in the world" and insisted Britain did not export anything to Iran that breached sanctions.

John Stanley, the chairman of the committees, said the report "puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the government's arms exports and human rights policies".

The committee said that while many of the licences were for dual military or civilian use items which could not be easily used for internal repression, the numbers were still "surprisingly large".

The countries with the largest numbers of licences include China with 1,163 worth £1.4 billion, Saudi Arabia with 417 worth £1.8 billion, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories with 381 worth £7.8 billion.

Iran, at the centre of international concerns about its nuclear programme, had 62 licences worth £803 million and Syria, where a civil war has left up to 100,000 people dead according to the United Nations, had three worth £143,000.

Hague, speaking on a visit to Islamabad, said exporters were subject to British, international and EU rules and oversight from a parliamentary committee.

"Our sanctions on Iran are extremely tough and we do not export to Iran anything that conflicts with the sanctions agreed at the United Nations or in the European Union," he told reporters.

"I think people can be confident in our export controls, they are among the toughest in the world."

The only two countries without any valid licences out of the 27 on the list were North Korea and South Sudan.

The list comprises Afghanistan, Belarus, Myanmar, China, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Fiji, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

But the report also raised concerns about a further five countries for which licences were issued: Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Madagascar and Tunisia.

Argentina was included on the list because of renewed tensions over the British-held Falkland Islands.

Rights group Amnesty International called for more transparency over what kind of equipment Britain was exporting.

"It would be hard not to conclude that the UK government's arms sales practices are at odds with its stated policy not to send weapons to anywhere that poses a clear risk that they could be used for human rights violations," Amnesty's arms control expert Oliver Sprague said.