New government report shows UK sold arms to 80% of world's conflict zones in 2005

31 March 2006

Campaigners criticise broken promises over international arms controls

Just two weeks after a Foreign Office minister told MPs that the UK was “leading the world” in backing an international treaty to stop arms sales to human rights abusers and conflict zones, a new government report published today [Friday 31 March] shows that in 2005 the UK itself is openly breaching these principles.[1] In 2005 the Government licensed arms exports to 14 of the 17 countries involved in major ongoing conflicts, and 11 of the 20 regimes on the government's own list of the world's most serious human rights abusers.

The report reflects a booming year for the UK's arms industry, the world's second largest arms exporter. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today toured US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice around the Lancashire factory of BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms manufacturer. Today's report shows arms export licences to the USA have nearly doubled in value since 2004.[2]

Today's publication of the final part of the UK's 2005 Strategic Export Control Report casts serious doubt on the Government's stated commitment to controlling the arms trade. Jack Straw stated in early 2005 that an international arms trade treaty should be based upon “core principles” prohibiting arms sales when “exports may be used to abuse Human Rights or breach International Law; [and] whether they may fuel internal or regional conflict or tension”. Yet in January 2006 the Defence Manufacturers Association, the representative body of the UK arms industry, announced to its members that the Government had assured them that “the eventual [arms trade] Treaty would not bring new obligations for UK industry.”

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said:

"The government appear to have reassured UK arms manufacturers that any new arms controls will not go beyond current UK regulations. Today's report shows the total inadequacy of those regulations. Repressive regimes and impoverished countries currently number amongst our best arms customers. If the government is serious about controlling the arms trade, it must be prepared to pursue an international treaty that will genuinely stop British arms sales to conflict zones and human rights abusers.”


17 countries were involved in major armed conflict in 2005. Last year the UK licensed military equipment exports to 14 of them.[3] These included:

  • assault rifle parts to Nepal, where both the Nepalese army and Maoist forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses during the escalating civil war.[4]
  • a 60% rise in arms exports to Sri Lanka, where fighting between government forces and LTTE rebels has escalated since the assassination of the country's former foreign minister in August 2005.[5]
  • military aircraft parts to Uganda, where an international coalition of charities announced yesterday that fighting against the Lord's Resistance Army has produced the world's highest war-related death toll, accused the Ugandan government of failing to “prioritise the protection of civilians over the annihilation of the LRA”, and condemned the LRA for abduction and civilian killings.

Human Rights Abuse

The Foreign Office's Annual Human Rights Report 2005 lists 20 'major countries of concern'. The UK licensed military equipment exports to 11 of them.[6] These included:

  • The highest level of UK arms exports to Israel since 1999, despite the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Arms export licences to Israel in 2005 - including armoured vehicles and missile components - have nearly doubled in value compared to 2004.[7]
  • Exports to Indonesia worth over £12.5m, from gun silencers to combat aircraft parts. Amnesty International have reported extrajudicial killings carried out by Indonesian security forces in Aceh and West Papua, and UK-made Tactica armoured vehicles were deployed against protestors in West Papua in November 2005.[8] Foreign Office Minister Ian Pearson has admitted that the UK “no longer seek guarantees or assurances” that British weaponry sold to Indonesia will not be used to abuse human rights, since such assurances “are not enforceable”.
  • A 25% increase in arms exports to Saudi Arabia, including assault rifles and riot control equipment.[9] In December 2005 Defence Minister John Reid signed an initial agreement for a new multi-billion pound arms deal with the regime, including a new fleet of Typhoon fighter jets.

Impoverished Countries

In 2005 the UK licensed significant quantities of arms sales to 10 countries in the bottom third of the UN's Human Development Index. These included £18.1m of arms sales to Pakistan, which spends more on its military than on health and education combined; and £31m to Nigeria, the world's 20th least developed country.

For information or interview, contact Campaign Against Arms Trade, media(at)caat·org·uk, +44 (0)207 281 0297

The latest quarterly Strategic Export Control Report is here

Previous quarterly reports are here


  1. Ian Pearson MP, evidence to the Quadripartite Committee on Strategic Exports, 16 March 2006
  2. Single Individual Export Licenses were issued to the USA in 2004 totalling £359m. In 2005 they totalled £705.5m
  3. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2005 Yearbook (OUP 2005). 19 conflicts were ongoing in Algeria*, Burundi*, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda*, Colombia*, Peru*, USA*, India*, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal*, Philippines*, Sri Lanka*, Russia*, Iraq*, Israel* & Occupied Territories, and Turkey*. (starred countries received licenses for military exports in 2005)
  4. Amnesty International Annual Report 2005, pp. 187-88
  5. Single Individual Export Licenses were issued in 2004 totalling £2.6m. In 2005 they totalled £4.35m
  6. See FCO Human Rights Annual Report (July 2005), Chapter 2, Major Countries of Concern. These are: Afghanistan*, Belarus, Myanmar (Burma), China*, Colombia*, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo*, Indonesia*, Iran, Iraq*, Israel*, North Korea, Nepal*, Russia*, Saudi Arabia*, Sudan, Turkmenistan*, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe (starred countries received licences for military exports in 2005)
  7. Single Individual Export Licenses were issued in 2004 totalling £12.85m. In 2005 they totalled £24.25m
  8. Amnesty International Annual Report 2005 pp. 129-131
  9. Single Individual Export Licenses were issued in 2004 totalling £19.5m. In 2005 they totalled £25m
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