We shouted loudest over Sri Lanka’s abuses. Three years on and we’re arming the regime

No matter how much red tape we put in place, we have no control over how such weaponry is used

Related Topics

Britain claims to have some of the world's most stringent controls when it comes to exporting arms around the world. In many respects, the checks and balances we place on UK-made weaponry are significantly more onerous than those provided by our global competitors. But it doesn't stop British hardware ending up in the hands of some pretty odious regimes. After all, Saudi Arabia remains Britain's most loyal and extravagant arms purchaser to the tune of more than £4billion over the past five years.

But no matter how much red tape we put in place to limit who we sell arms to, the simple fact remains that we have no control over how such weaponry will be used once it leaves our hands.

Nothing proves this better than the Arab Spring. Arms campaigners had warned for years that Western weaponry sold to nepotistic, cash rich, paranoid and weapon-hungry regimes in the Middle East and North Africa would one day be used on their own people. Sure enough, when genuine calls for freedom were made on the streets of Benghazi, Cairo, Sana'a, Manama and Damascus, they were met with bullets – many were made abroad.

The British Government's repeated claims that no export licences would be issued to countries where there is "a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts" looked entirely hollow when – as the Arab Spring raged – one only had to glance at our export lists to see countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen snapping up British arms in the preceding years.

This is why it is not surprising to see that we have granted licences to export weapons – including small arms and ammunition – to Sri Lanka. But it is depressing. After all, the Sri Lankan army and the Rajapaksa government stand accused of overseeing some of the most horrific war crimes of the 21st century and have repeatedly resisted pressure to allow access to investigators.

Tens of thousands of civilians died in the closing stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, with widespread reports of rape, extrajudicial killing and deliberate targeting of civilians. At the time, Britain was one of those shouting loudest. Three years on we are selling weaponry to the same regime.

A similar rehabilitation occurred with Bahrain. When scores of protesters in Manama were receiving nightly doses of bird-shot and tear gas – most of which came from European arms manufactures – Britain briefly suspended its export licences, acutely aware of the huge embarrassment such deals now caused.

The abuses continue to this day against Bahraini opposition protesters – yet the export restrictions have been quietly lifted and last summer Bahrain's King Hamed al-Khalifa was welcomed into Downing Street.

The message Britain sends out is clear: while you are actively turning weaponry on your own people, we won't sell arms to you. But give it some time, take your finger of the trigger for a while, and we'll start resuming exports again.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own