Wednesday, December 17 2014

Arab Spring led to change in UK arms export policy


The Guardian today covers the publication of a report by the Joint Committee on Arms Export Controls on the UK's export licenses. The committee, noting the revocation of 158 arms export licenses since the start of the Arab Spring, argues that there was "no significant changes in the repressive regimes concerned between the British Government's approval of the arms export licences in question and the start of the Arab Spring in December 2010, and that the Arab Spring simply exposed the true nature of the repressive regimes which had been the case all along".

From the Guardian:

"The UK must change its arms export policy to prevent weapons and other military equipment being sold to authoritarian regimes because the Arab spring has shown the system is fundamentally flawed, a Commons report warns.

"The report of the joint committees on arms export controls includes previously unpublished details about what has been sold abroad over the past two years.


"It also highlights how an unprecedented number of export licences had to be revoked because of fears that British equipment could be used for human rights abuses in the Middle East and north Africa. In all, 158 arms licences had to be withdrawn."


The report also discloses the buyers of UK arms which the Guardian has usefully captures in easy to read form here. The report, strangely, combines data for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

On the UK's arms exports industry and democracy-promotion programme, the report notes:

"The Committees conclude that, whilst the promotion of arms exports and the upholding of human rights are both legitimate Government policies, the Government would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time. The Committees further conclude that whilst the Government's statement that "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations for all export licence applications" is welcome, those considerations do not appear to have weighed sufficiently heavily on either the present Government or on its predecessor given the unprecedented scale of arms export licence revocations that the Government has made since the "Arab Spring" — the stated reason for revocation being in every single case "that this licence now contravenes Criteria 2 and 3". Criteria 2 is headed "The respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination", and Criteria 3 is headed "The internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions, or armed conflicts."

On the Arab Spring and the UK's response to arms sales amid changing regional dynamics, the committee concludes in its recommendations:

The Government's Arab Spring arms export policy review

"The Committees conclude that the Government's repeated use of the phrase "crowd control goods" in the context of its arms export review is misleading given that "crowd control goods" are generally associated with non-lethal equipment. The Committees further conclude that the Government's use of the phrase "crowd control goods" to include "shotguns, small arms, semi-automatic pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, submachine guns, and ammunition, armoured personnel carriers, armoured fighting vehicles" is not one that would be acceptable to Parliament or to the wider public. The Committees recommend that the Government discontinues the use of the phrase "crowd control goods" in this context, which as well as being misleading is also profoundly disrespectful to the thousands of unarmed civilians in the Arab Spring countries who have courageously demonstrated for human rights and fundamental freedoms and have put their lives at risk in doing so. (Paragraph 197)

"The Committees conclude that the Government's review of its policies and practices on arms exports following the Arab Spring should not have been carried out merely as "an internal review" and should instead have been the subject of public consultation in accordance with the Government's stated policy of transparency on arms exports. The Committees further conclude that whilst the Government's introduction of a new licence suspension mechanism is welcome, this is not sufficient to ensure that arms exported from the UK are not used for internal repression overseas because in many, if not most, cases the arms will have left the UK before suspension occurs. The Committees recommend that the Government in its response to this Report sets out whether the "revised risk categorisation" proposed by the Foreign Secretary in his Written Ministerial Statement of 13 October 2011 will, or will not, be applied to arms export licence applications when initially made, and whether he will make public the "revised risk categorisation" and explain fully how it would be applied to arms export licence decisions. (Paragraph 207)


"The Committees conclude that whilst the Government's revocation of an unprecedented number of 158 arms export licences following the Arab Spring is welcome, the scale of the revocations is demonstrable evidence that the initial judgements to approve the applications were flawed. The Committees further conclude that there were no significant changes in the repressive regimes concerned between the British Government's approval of the arms export licences in question and the start of the Arab Spring in December 2010, and that the Arab Spring simply exposed the true nature of the repressive regimes which had been the case all along. The Committees recommend that the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes "which might be used to facilitate internal repression" in contravention of British Government policy. (Paragraph 208)"


The Committee notes among countries of concern for UK arms exports the following: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Argentina and China.

The full report can be read here.

The Guardian's interactive map on British arms exports can be found here.









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