1 May 2012
Arab Spring repression no barrier to UK arms exports in 2011
As Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's (FCO) annual Human Rights and Democracy report for 2011, the Department of Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) released, late and without fanfare, statistics for licences issued for military and other "strategic exports" for the final quarter of 2011.
While the first lauded the Arab Spring as the "most important prospect for the enlargement of human dignity and freedom since the end of the Cold War", the export figures reveal that the UK continued to licence arms for export to many Arab countries before, during and after the Arab Spring.
These included over £1.7 billion worth of military exports to Saudi Arabia and smaller, but significant, amounts to Bahrain and Egypt. While the UN arms embargo effectively stopped UK arms exports to Libya, the government is keen to promote arms sales to the new government in 2012.
Kaye Stearman of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said:
The FCO report is fulsome in its support for human rights and democracy in Arab Spring countries. However, the BIS figures show that the UK government is happy to approve arms exports to the same governments who abuse and suppress human rights. It's time to end the double standards and stop selling weapons to these authoritarian and repressive regimes.
The most striking contrasts were:
Saudi Arabia - The FCO report lists Saudi Arabia as a "country of concern" and gives a detailed account of human rights violations within the country, including an unrepresentative government, violations of human rights of women, migrant workers and religious minorities, torture and severe restriction of personal freedoms. It did not include Saudi military intervention in neighbouring Bahrain in March 2011.
Nevertheless, the UK continued to licence huge amounts of arms for export to Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Saudi Arabia was the UK's second largest customer (after France) with "strategic exports" totalling £1.75 billion of which £1.735 billion were military exports. By far the largest category were "aircraft, helicopters, drones" valued at £1.708 billion but there were also substantial amounts listed for "grenades, bombs, missiles and countermeasures" at £15 million and £1.5 million for "small arms".
Bahrain - The FCO report notes: "Long standing concerns about discrimination, corruption and marginalising of Bahrain's minority Shia population...." and opposition protests which continued throughout 2011. However, although some arms export licences were revoked in February 2011, arms exports had resumed by June, reaching a total for the year of £2.25 million. Although this is lower than the £4.8 million approved in 2010, it is still lamentable, given the continuing repression in Bahrain.
Egypt - The FCO report states the UK government supported "an orderly transition to a democratic system ... to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people". Despite the fact that after the overthrow of Mubarak in February 2011 Egypt remained under military rule, the BIS statistics show that in 2011 the UK government continued to licence arms for export to Egypt valued at over £2 million - considerably more than the 2010 total of £1.2million.
Libya - The FCO report states "The desire of the Libyan people to see their basic human rights respected after 42 years of repression was one of the key factors leading to the 17 February revolution and ultimately the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime on 23 October." The report focuses on the aftermath of that regime and the attempts to build a new political and legal system.
Yet, nowhere in the report does it state that the UK sold arms to Qadhafi until a UN embargo was imposed in March 2011 and has since organised arms trade missions to the new government. In 2010 military exports totalled £34.7million. In the final quarter of 2010, just before the 17 February uprising, licences were approved for military equipment, totalling £2.2 million, including components for combat aircraft and over £446,000 worth of small arms equipment.
For further information contact CAAT's Media Co-ordinator Kaye Stearman on 0207 281 0287 or or mobile 07990 673 232 or email Kaye Stearman.
1. 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 75% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.
2. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office Human Rights Report Human Rights Report is available on the FCO website.
3. The arms export licensing process is carried out by the Export Controls Organisation based in the Department of Business Innovation & Skills, with input from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), with reports published quarterly by the FCO. The statistics for the fourth quarter of 2011 were published on 27 April 2012 and the figures were made available in the format of CAAT's Arms Export App on CAAT website on 30 April.
4. In the Economist Intelligence Unit's"democracy index"PDF , Saudi Arabia languishes near the bottom. At the time of the most recent index, covering 2010, Saudi Arabia was assessed as more authoritarian than Syria, Libya and Iran. In fact, only the Central African Republic, Burma, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Chad and North Korea were assessed as worse.
5. The UK government has vigorously promoted arms sales. Prime Minister David Cameron has included arms company executives in official visits to the Middle East in February 2011 and to Asia in April 2012.