Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House "Freedom in the world" report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.
A full two-thirds of UK weapons over this period were sold to Middle Eastern countries, where instability has fed into increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West.
Meanwhile statistics collated by UK Trade and Investment, a government body that promotes British exports abroad, show the UK has sold more arms than Russia, China, or France on average over the last 10 years. Only the United States is a bigger exporter.
“The UK is one of the world’s most successful defence exporters, averaging second place in the global rankings on a rolling ten-year basis, making it Europe’s leading defence exporter in the period,” the body boasted in a report released this summer.
Ministers, who must sign-off all arms export licences, say the current system is robust and that they have revoked permission to export defence equipment in the past – for example in Russia and Ukraine.
But the Government has also ignored calls to stop selling weapons to repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by UN bodies of potentially committing war crimes in its military operation in Yemen against Houthi rebels.
Both the European Parliament and the House of Commons International Development Committee have called for exports to the autocracy to stop, but the Government says it has not seen evidence of Saudi war crimes.
The Saudi-led coalition has bombed multiple international hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as schools and wedding parties. Food factories have also been hit, as Yemen faces severe food shortages. Human rights groups say there is evidence civilian targets are being deliberately hit. The coalition has opened investigations into a number of incidents and has repeatedly claimed in statements that the coalition "is committed to full respect for international humanitarian law in the conduct of our operations in Yemen".
A joint analysis conducted by the Independent and Campaign Against the Arms Trade found £10bn in arms licences were issued 2010-2015 to regimes designated “unfree” by Freedom House, including China, Oman, Turkmenistan and UAE.
Meanwhile £7.9bn worth of arms were sold to countries on the “human rights priority countries” list, which is maintained by the Foreign Office and includes countries judged by the FCO to have “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations”.
Customers on this list included Saudi Arabia, which was sold bombs, missiles, and fighter jets, Israel, which was sold drone components and targeting equipment, and Bahrain, which was sold machine guns.
Assault rifles and pistols were sent to the Maldives, while Turkmenistan was sold guns and ammunition.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade warned that the dependence of British exporters on unsavory regimes could make the UK less likely to intervene against human rights violators.
“These terrible figures expose the hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The government is always telling us that it acts to promote human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting some of the most repressive regimes in the world. The impact of UK arms sales is clear in Yemen, where British fighter jets and bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction,” he told The Independent.
“These regimes aren't just buying weapons, they're also buying political support and legitimacy. How likely is the UK to act against human rights violations in these countries when it is also profiting from them?
“There is no such thing as arms control in a war zone and there is no way of knowing how these weapons will be used. The fact that so many weapons were sold to Russia and Libya is a reminder that the shelf-life of weapons is often longer than the governments and situations they were sold to.”
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
A Government spokesperson said its approach to arms export control was “sufficiently tough”.
“The Government takes its arms export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every brokering application on a pre-licensing case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
“Export licensing requires us to consider how the equipment will be used by the end-user and risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment. We consider this approach to be sufficiently tough but where there is evidence of a need for further action we have the powers to do so under existing legislation”.