24 June 2011
UK government challenged over failure to revoke arms exports to Saudi Arabia
Lawyers acting on behalf of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) laying out their intention to request a judicial review of his department's failure to revoke any licences for the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, despite evidence that UK-manufactured armoured vehicles have been deployed by the Saudi government in Bahrain to help suppress democracy protesters.
The UK government's export licensing criteria states that it will "not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression".
While the government has revoked some export licences to countries where there have been protests during the Arab Spring, such as Bahrain itself, it has not revoked licences to Saudi Arabia. CAAT argues that, with Saudi Arabian forces present in Bahrain, it is clear that their equipment might be used for internal repression. In addition, UK weaponry might be used for internal repression within Saudi Arabia, which is listed by a "major country of concern" by the FCO in its Annual Report on Human Rights.
Read the full copy of the letter PDF (895KiB)
Kaye Stearman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said:
We contend that the failure of the UK government to act to revoke arms export licences to Saudi Arabia is unlawful and cannot be justified. The difference in the treatment of Bahrain, where licences have been revoked, and Saudi Arabia, where they have not, further undermines the government's credibility.
For further information or an interview please contact CAAT's Media Coordinator, Kaye Stearman on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email press(at)caat·org·uk.
- The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end the international arms trade.The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems. Around 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters.
- The arms export licensing process is carried out by the Export Control Organisation based in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, with input from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), with reports published quarterly by the FCO. In 2010 the UK approved a total of £425.3 million arms and dual use exports to Saudi Arabia - 99 Single Individual Export Licences (SIEL) Military licences to Saudi Arabia worth £339.9 million, 121 Other licences worth £83.7 million and 6 Military and Other licences worth £1.6 million - a total of £425.3 million. More details here PDF (895KiB)
- The government's arms sales promotion unit is UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms, which represent only 1.2% of exports, compared to 130 staff to support all other industry sectors.
- As quoted in the letter: "Internal repression includes, inter alia, torture and other cruel, human and degrading treatment or punishment, summary, arbitrary or extra judicial executions; disappearances; arbitrary detentions; and other major suppression or violations of human rights. and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights instruments, ...."
- Saudi Arabia has been a major customer for UK weaponry since the 1960s and is listed as a UKTI DSO "priority market". The Al Yamamah ("Dove") agreements of the mid-1980's were between the Thatcher government in the UK and the Saudi Arabian government. Military equipment, especially Tornado and Hawk jets, were to be supplied by what is now BAE Systems. The deals also included servicing, spares and ancillary services. More recently, in 2007, BAE sold 72 of its Eurofighter Typhoons in a £4.4 billion deal called Al Salam ("Peace"). The Typhoons are replacing the Air Defence Variant Tornados supplied under the Al Yamamah deals; the remaining Tornados continue to be upgraded. The Tactica armoured personnel carriers were a separate deal with the Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) which ordered 261 of the vehicles in 2006. Most were accepted by SANG in 2010 with the remainder due for delivery in 2011.
- In 2010, the UK approved 70 export licences to Bahrain for £8.8 million worth of arms including tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns.
- The annual report of the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls published on 5 April 2011 was highly critical of the government's arms export policy and stated that successive governments had "misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression." It also posed the question of how the government: "intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights."