UK arms sales to human rights abusers 'almost double'

UK arms sales to human rights abusers 'almost double'
Arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Bahrain "fuel atrocities for years to come", campaigners said.
2 min read
18 July, 2018
UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are fueling conflicts in Yemen, say campaigners [Getty]
UK arms sales to countries on the government's list of human rights abusers including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel and Egypt have almost doubled.

According to figures from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, licences for arms deals worth some £1.5bn were approved in 2017, up from £820m a year earlier. 

Saudi Arabia alone bought £1.13bn worth of arms in 2017 from the UK.

For the last three years the kingdom has led a devastating bombing campaign in Yemen which has killed thousands of civilians and helped trigger one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Israel was the second-biggest buyer of UK arms in 2017 to feature on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) human rights priority list, with £221m worth of licences granted.

This is despite Prime Minister Theresa May expressing concern over Israel's killing of Palestinians during the Gaza border protests when her counterpart Binyamin Netanyahu visited Downing Street in June.

Bahrain bought £30.7m of British arms in 2017, while Egypt imported £6.5m of arms. Both countries are conducting brutal crackdowns on dissent, with activists and journalists rounded up and jailed.

The UK government is "actively arming and supporting many of the regimes that even it believes are responsible for terrible human rights abuses," CAAT's Andrew Smith told The Independent.

"There is little oversight in the system, and no controls over how these arms will be used once they have left the UK. The arms sales being agreed today could be used to fuel atrocities for years to come," he added.

The CAAT report comes in the week the UK hosts key arms fair for military personnel and government officials to purchase new weaponry.

Arms on display in Farnborough include fighter jets, drones, and missile systems. BAE Systems, MBDA, and Raytheon - which make combat aircraft and bombs thought to be used by Saudi forces in Yemen - will attend the event.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International said US and UK arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen made a "mockery" of global arms treaties and has resulted in "enormous harm" to civilians.

A Department for International Trade (DIT) spokeswoman said the UK operates a "robust system" of arms export control, adding each licence application is considered case-by-case against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.

"We will not grant a licence if doing so would be inconsistent with these criteria," she added.