Ministers from the Committees on Arms Export Controls have said that the government needs to tighten its controls on selling arms to countries with a bad record on human rights abuses.
As UK sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bahrain have soared, a spotlight is being shone on the government over its failure to accurately track arms deals and refrain from selling arms to known human rights abusers. The UK is required to take these steps under the Arms Trade Treaty (2014).
The Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC)
The group is led by Graham Jones MP. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The recommendations to tighten arms export controls have come from the Committees on Arms Export Controls, (CAEC). CAEC represents four House of Commons select committees: the Business and Enterprise Select Committee, the Defence Select Committee, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the International Development Select Committee.
CAEC is led by Graham Jones, Labour MP for Lyndburn. It is designed to to examine the government’s expenditure, administration and policy on strategic exports.
After CAEC entered a long lull during 2015 and 2016, it reconvened in March of that year when it started to investigate the use of UK-manufactured weapons in Yemen.
Selling Weapons, Surging Profits
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
CAEC’s report, which was published on Wednesday, makes for some uncomfortable reading. The UK nearly doubled the value of arms sales to countries on the government’s list of human rights abusers in the past year.
The government has made weapons deals with eighteen different countries who perpetuate human rights abuses, including China, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. And the profits from selling to these countries have soared, according to CAEC.
Deals worth £1.5bn were approved by Whitehall in 2017, which is a £820m in profits from the previous year, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) pressure group calculated.
The statistics from the Department for International Trade (DIT) show that the UK sold £836m of arms and military hardware to Saudi Arabia between April and June 2017.
And the weapons don’t just hold the potential to kill. More than 10,000 children were killed or maimed in conflicts during 2017, according to a new United Nations (UN) report, which has prompted critics of the arms trade to accuse the UK of complicity in human rights abuses.
CAEC Fights Back
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Now, CAEC are pressuring the government into taking decisive action. They have asked the government to block the sale of weapons to countries that have not signed an international arms trade treaty and those on a Foreign Office human rights blacklist.
They also want the government to track where the weapons will be used. It is likely that many of the arms sold could be used to target civilians in warfare, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Without monitoring the final destination of this weaponry, innocent people’s lives could be at risk.
“We believe that some end-use monitoring is advisable, and that it would assist the government in making better, more informed, export licensing decisions, as well as in addressing questions around compliance and enforcement,” the report read.
The Likelihood of a Ban
Critics argue that the most influential members of government are not even committed to reducing the volume of arms traded with human rights abusers, never mind a full-blown ban.
Although the Committees attempted to meet then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox for oral evidence regarding the trade deals, the pair didn’t turn up.
“It is not acceptable for departments to leave it to the last minute before confirming the attendance of ministerial witnesses,” read the Committees’ annual report. “To do so is disrespectful to the House.”
The working group are also concerned that Brexit will lead the way for more dubious deals to be made. CAEC have warned the government of “potential consequences if UK and EU arms control policy drift apart after Brexit”.
“There are Outstanding Questions”
The pressure is on the Government to respond to the allegations. Graham Jones, Chair of CAEC, said: “Although the UK has one of the toughest arms-control systems anywhere in the world, this in-depth analysis has highlighted some of the gaps in those controls.
“I am delighted that there was a consensual view across the committees on what is a very thorough report. There are, however, outstanding questions and the committees intend to look into these further in the future.”
Featured image credit: Flickr