Britain 'misjudged' risk in exporting arms: report

5th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

British lawmakers accused ministers Tuesday of misjudging the risk that British arms exported to countries such as Libya and Bahrain would be used to repress demonstrators.

A report by a parliamentary committee disclosed that even last year, British firms were granted licences to sell equipment ranging from small arms to armoured personnel carriers to countries in the Middle East-North Africa region.

The Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls welcomed the fact that 156 export licences to Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia had been revoked since the uprisings of the so-called "Arab Spring".

But the scrutiny body said the government still needed to reconcile its wish to promote arms sales with its duty to uphold human rights.

Last year alone, approval was given for the export to Libya of small arms ammunition, crowd control ammunition, tear gas, and technology for the use of infrared and thermal imaging equipment.

For Bahrain, licences were issued covering sub-machine guns, sniper rifles, CS hand grenades, smoke canisters, stun grenades, and tear gas and riot control agents.

Exports of body armour and night vision goggles have been approved for Yemen, small arms ammunition for Syria, and sniper rifles, aircraft components and armoured personnel carriers for Saudi Arabia.

"We conclude that both the present government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression," the report said.

"We also recommend that the government sets out how it intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights."

British planes are helping to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians from attack by leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces, who are seeking to repel attacks from rebels.

Since the unrest has spread across the region, more than 100 people have been killed in a crackdown by Yemeni security forces on protesters, while activists estimate that more than 130 people have died in clashes in Syria.

© 2011 AFP

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