You are here: Report reveals UK arms sold to "countries of human rights concern"

30 July 2013

The UK government has granted export licenses for strategic controlled goods worth over £12 billion to states with poor human rights records, according to a report released by the Committees on Arms Export Controls. These licenses have been granted to 25 of the 27 states listed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as “countries of human rights concern”, and include transfers such as “crowd control ammunition” to Saudi Arabia and assault rifles to Sri Lanka.

This revelation appears to put the government's position at odds with its strong advocacy for the recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty, designed to prevent the export of arms to repressive states.  The UK government should now clarify, as a matter of urgency, how the granting of these licenses can be reconciled with its commitment to human rights and responsible arms transfer practices.  

In a letter printed in The Independent on 30 July, UNA-UK’s Communications Officer, Ben Donaldson, wrote:

"Before ratifying the Treaty later this year and revelling in the associated kudos, the UK needs to put its money where its mouth is and ensure its export policies are fully aligned with the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as with existing UK and EU legislation. The mixed message the UK is currently sending out risks damaging the prospects of the Treaty before it enters into force and raises serious questions about the UK’s professed commitment to implement the Treaty to a high standard."

Media coverage fails to consider Arms Trade Treaty

It was disappointing to note that much of the UK media’s coverage of the Committee’s report failed to set the report in its wider context, specifically with regard to the Arms Trade Treaty.  In letters printed in The Telegraph and The Independent newspapers, Ben Donaldson considers UK export policy in relation to the UK's Arms Trade Treaty commitments.

Click here to read the letter in The Telegraph, published on 31 July

Click here to read the letter in The Independent, published on 30 July

In order to restore confidence in the UK's stated commitment to ratifying the Treaty later this year and to implementing it to a high standard, clarification is urgently needed in relation to this widespread practice of granting export licenses to countries with bad human rights records.  

As part of our continuing work in support of the Arms Trade Treaty, UNA-UK will continue to stimulate debate on this issue and work to ensure that states do not engage in practices that could undermine confidence in the Treaty.  As of 1 August 2013 the Arms Trade Treaty has been signed by 81 states and ratified by two. The Treaty will enter into force once it has been ratified by 50 states.   

Click here to read the Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Control Report