Lang to face court challenge over arms deals to Indonesia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, is to face the first legal challenge over licensing the export of UK-manufactured armoured vehicles and water cannon to the repressive regime in Indonesia.

Tapol (the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign), the Campaign Against Arms Trade and the World Development Movement have photographic evidence and video evidence they say proves that the British government is breaking its own policies on arms export and human rights by giving the go-ahead to the exports.

The Department of Trade and Industry disclosed on 9 December last year that it had issued licences to the Coventry-based firm Alvis for 50 Scorpion armoured vehicles and to Procurement Services International Limited for a variety of police vehicles, including water cannon. It was revealed in a parliamentary answer on 23 January that the latter licence covers more than 300 armoured vehicles made by Southampton-based Glover Webb.

A letter last month from the organisations' solicitor, Stephen Grosz, to Mr Lang highlighted an incident in April, when the Indonesian army used British-made armoured vehicles to disperse a student demonstration. Three students were killed.

In June, security forces sprayed liquid from a British-manufactured armoured vehicle during a pro-democracy demonstration. Mr Grosz has been advised that the chemical is likely to have been CS gas.

Government policy, set out in a consultative document following the Scott arms-for-Iraq inquiry, is "to avoid contributing to internal repression and instability [and] ... to avoid contributing to human rights abuses." Jeremy Hanley, the Foreign Office Minister of State, said in an answer last October that the use of water cannon to stop peaceful demonstrations was "totally unacceptable", adding: "It is totally unacceptable to use chemicals or dyes with the water cannon."

The three organisations gave Mr Lang a month to avoid the prospect of legal action by agreeing to withdraw the licences. The deadline expired at 5pm yesterday and the groups will apply for a judicial review.