UK arms sales to countries with 'dubious human rights' rise to £3bn

In 2014, only £180 million worth of arms were licensed to export to countries on the Foreign Office's 'human rights priority' list

Matt Payton
Sunday 29 May 2016 17:45 BST
Prime Minister David Cameron during a Q&A with employees at BAE Systems in Preston
Prime Minister David Cameron during a Q&A with employees at BAE Systems in Preston (PA)

The UK arms sales to governments listed by the Foreign Office as having dubious human rights records has increased to £3 billion.

More than £3 billion of sales was licensed for export in 2015 to 21 of the Foreign Office's list of 30 "human rights priority countries".

The countries on the list are where "the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place" or "where we judge the UK can make a real difference".

Last year, British companies sold weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Burundi.

According to documents shared with the Observer, only £170 million of arms sales were licensed to export in 2014 to 18 of the 27 countries on the "priority list".

This massive increase last year has been attributed to sales to Saudi Arabia, including a £1.7 billion fighter jet deal licensed in May 2015 and a £990 million air-to-air missiles deal licensed in July 2015.

These deals took place after Saudi Arabia started bombing targets in Yemen in March 2015. There are serious concerns civilian buildings in Yemen have been targeted.

It comes after The Independent revealed 16 of the priority list countries were being provided with training and military support by the UK since 2014.

According to the Ministry of Defence, British soldiers have trained the armed forces of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe – despite the human rights records of those countries.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said all training was delivered in line with the UK Government's Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance, "in order to mitigate the risk of contributing to human rights violations".

“The fundamental right of all humans to fair treatment is intrinsic to all British Military training activity," he said.

"If there is credible evidence that our support is being misused, we will take immediate action.”

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