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World

UK sells arms to 80% of countries under restrictions: Report

  • British officials have approved the sale of arms to nearly four-fifths of countries subject to arms embargos, sanctions and other restrictions, over the past five years.
  • The United Kingdom has exported military hardware to 58 countries, out of 73 listed as subject to restrictions by the Department for International Trade, including Pakistan, Kenya and China.
Updated 26 Jan 2021

British officials have approved the sale of arms to nearly four-fifths of countries subject to arms embargos, sanctions and other restrictions, over the past five years.

The United Kingdom has exported military hardware to 58 countries, out of 73 listed as subject to restrictions by the Department for International Trade, including Pakistan, Kenya and China.

According to the group that compiled the report, Action on Armed Violence, while the exports are legal, they represent a "systemic failure to consider the human rights record of states before exporting weapons to them”.

Five countries listed by the trade department as key export markets for British arms makers, which include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, also feature on the Foreign Office’s latest list of 30 “human rights priority countries”, despite the fact that not all are subject to sanctions.

Murray Jones, the author of the report, stated that his research - which reviewed the United Kingdom's export records between January 2015 and June 2020 - “demonstrates the frailty of the UK’s commitment to human rights abroad”.

Licences have been granted to export aircraft parts, riot shields and hundreds of sniper rifles to Pakistan, despite the Foreign Office warning in November of “increased pressure on civic space and freedom of expression” in the country, including threats to minorities.

Britain has authorised millions in sales of arms to China, mostly military radar equipment for the country’s fast growing navy - which is now the world's largest.

Details of the arms exports approved were extracted from public records published by the trade department, but the researchers said they came with limited supporting justification, making it difficult to see what their ultimate purpose was.

“If any of these exports are justifiable, the licences are so opaque that an independent examiner simply cannot know what’s going on. The government shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt just because they fail to be transparent,” Jones said.

A government spokesperson stated that “The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria".