MPs conclude that arms exports are undermining UK’s human rights policy


Today the House of Commons Committee on Arms Exports, that I am a member of, publishes a report concluding that the UK’s human rights policy is being fundamentally undermined by the scale and nature of arms exports licences being approved by the Government. It also finds that the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories is of severe concern.

The Committee found that there are over three thousand Government approved export licences, worth more than £12 billion, for ‘strategic controlled goods’ going to 27 Countries listed as of human rights concern by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These goods include a wide range of items that could be used for military purposes, torture or capital punishment, or for developing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The Committee’s 2013 report analyses the Government’s arms exports and arms control policies and practices in unprecedented depth and detail. For the first time, the Committee has detailed the number, value and nature of export licences for the 27 countries that are designated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be of ‘human rights concern’.

It is highly concerning to see the number and value of licences going to countries that we know are not respecting the human rights of their own and neighbouring populations. These include Israel, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Burma and China, and other countries such as Bahrain – where there are severe grounds for concern.

We concluded that it is fundamentally anomalous that some countries of human rights concern – such as Saudi Arabia and Libya – have actually been designated as ‘priority markets’ for UK trade and investment within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

This report reveals a major contradiction between the Government’s arms exports and human rights policies. I welcome Foreign Secretary William Hague’s statement that the Government ‘ will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or (…) facilitate internal repression.” But I think many people reading this report will question whether granting licences for strategic controlled authoritarian regimes on this scale is the ‘right judgement’ for the UK.

As Chair of the Britain Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, I have also raised specific concerns about the scale of arms export licences to Israel.  The value of arms export licences to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – £7.8 of the 12 billion total – is breathtaking. Against a background of international concern about Israel, we need to know why inventory of equipment the UK is supplying ranges from components for assault rifles and arms to military communications equipment and intelligence software. The UK Government regularly expresses concern about Israel’s breaches of international law and human rights abuses. So just what are we doing supplying Israel with the military equipment that helps it carrying on such violations?

The UK Government has some serious questions to answer here – on its arms exports to Israel and to  other countries of concern.

Read the full press release on the CAEC report here: 201307 – CAEC Report – Arms Exports and Human Rights and more detail on the specific concerns related to Israel here: 201307 – CAEC – Israel + Arms Export

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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