Britain Exporting Arms to Rights Violators

Britain has issued export licences worth £12 billion ($18 billion, 14 billion euros) for the sale of military equipment to states deemed possible rights violators including Syria, Iran and China, lawmakers said Wednesday.

A report by a group of parliamentary committees said that 3,000 licences for arms and other equipment had been issued to countries on the Foreign Office's list of 27 countries of human rights concerns.

The countries for which licences have been issued include Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Belarus and Zimbawe, the Committees on Arms Export Controls of parliament's lower House of Commons said.

John Stanley, the chairman of the committees, said the report "puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the government's arms exports and human rights policies."

The committee said that while many of the licences were for dual military or civilian use, items which could not easily be used for internal repression, the numbers were still "surprisingly large".

The countries with the largest numbers of licences include China with 1,163 licences worth £1.4 billion, Saudi Arabia with 417 licences worth £1.8 billion, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories with 381 licences worth £7.8 billion.

Iran, at the centre of international concerns about its nuclear programme, had 62 licences worth £803 million and Syria, where a civil war has left up to 100,000 people dead according to the United Nations, had three licences worth £143,000.

The only two countries without any valid licences out of the 27 on the list were North Korea and South Sudan.

The list comprises Afghanistan, Belarus, Myanmar, China, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Fiji, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

But the report also raised concerns about a further five countries for which licences were issued: Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Madagascar and Tunisia.

Argentina was included on the list because of renewed tensions over the British-held Falkland Islands.

Rights group Amnesty International called for more transparency over what kind of equipment Britain was exporting.

"It would be hard not to conclude that the UK government's arms sales practices are at odds with its stated policy not to send weapons to anywhere that poses a clear risk that they could be used for human rights violations," Amnesty's arms control expert Oliver Sprague said.

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