The Scottish Parliament has called for the immediate suspension of exports of riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets to the United States, in light of the police response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.
A successful motion, which was backed by 52 votes to 0 with 11 abstentions, says the parliament "stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and considers that the UK government must immediately suspend all export licences for tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear to the US".
Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP who proposed the successful amendment, said the "weapons of oppression", which the UK government has granted active export licences for, were being used by a "racist state" to "brutalise marginalise communities".
The same motion also called for the establishment of a slavery museum in Scotland "to address our historic links with the slave trade".
The police response to the US protests has seen security forces ramming crowds with cars, deploying teargas and baton rounds against peaceful demonstrators, and arresting and shooting at domestic and international journalists covering events.
MSP Mr Harvie said following the vote: "In the weeks since George Floyd's brutal murder the world has been watching the appalling systematically racist police brutality and the systematically racist political establishment in the US that underpins that inequality.
"The Black Lives Matter movement has been inspiring and it needs to be heard right around the world: that racism exists in this country as well.
"I'm delighted that today the Scottish Parliament agreed a Green amendment in an anti-racism debate calling for an establishment of a Museum of Slavery to really shine a light on this country's grim past connections with slavery and how the inequality of that history perpetuates even now.
"But our amendment also called for an immediate halt of UK exports of tear gas, rubber bullets, and riots gear to the US. Those weapons of oppression are being used by a racist state and it is unacceptable for us to be exporting them, putting those weapons into the hands of people who will brutalise marginalised communities. It's important that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement."
Government export licence records show that the US is one of the world’s largest buyers of UK arms, with almost £6bn worth licensed for export since 2010.
The licences have included £18m worth of ammunition, including so-called “rubber bullets”, smoke and pyrotechnic charges, CS gas grenades, and teargas.
The sale of teargas and rubber bullets specifically is conducted via an “open licence” system meaning the value of exports is not made public – in total three separate licences were approved for this equipment.
Britain has also licensed £800m of small arms to the US since 2010, a proportion of which campaigners say is likely to have been for police use. The exports have included assault rifles, sniper rifles and other guns. Licences have also covered around £2m in security goods such as riot shields.
The government’s own licensing criteria says that exports should not be granted if there is a “clear risk that items might be used for internal repression”. The government has the power to urgently review licences where situations change.
Back at the UK parliament in Westminster 166 MPs from the Labour party, the Conservatives, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, Alliance, and SDLP signed a letter last week calling for a similar suspension. The letter was organised by Labour MP Dawn Butler.
The 166 MPs argued that the government “is bound by law to freeze export of all policing and security equipment to the US where it could be misused”.
Leader of the opposition Keir Starmer has also written to Boris Johnson calling for a review of arms sales, while human rights group Amnesty International has urged similar action.
Boris Johnson left the door open to action on the issue last week, telling the House of Commons that he was “happy to look into any complaints” but adding that “all exports are conducted in accordance with the consolidated guidance and the UK is probably the most scrupulous country in that respect in the world”.
Comment on the Scottish Parliament vote, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “This is a welcome and important statement of leadership from the Scottish Parliament. It sends a very clear message and sets an important precedent. Now it is time for Westminster to act.
"The violence we have seen from police forces across the US has been appalling and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There must be an urgent investigation into what UK weapons have gone over, and if any of them have been used against protesters. There must also be a guarantee that these types of weapons will not be sold again.
"Police violence and racism are global issues. One reason why we have seen such a strong response to the brutal killing of George Floyd is because these issues are familiar to people around the world. While we stand in solidarity with campaigners in the US, it is also vitally important that we challenge the hypocrisy and complicity of governments like the one here in the UK."
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