Arab Spring ‘demands change in UK arms policy’
LONDON — Britain must exercise more caution in granting licences for the export of arms to authoritarian regimes such as Bahrain in light of the Arab Spring uprisings, a parliamentary report has urged.
A Commons select committee review of export controls also revealed that Britain’s Foreign Office (FCO) is concerned about the sale of equipment to Argentina amid tensions over the Falkland Islands, the Guardian reported Friday.
Select committee chairman John Stanley said the government needed to make “significantly more cautious judgments on the export of arms.”
“Bahrain is self-evidently a very sensitive country, given the very serious human rights violations that took place there,” said Stanley. “There have been very serious human rights violations involving doctors and nurses.”
Around 100 licences were granted last year for sales to Bahrain for equipment including rifles, body armour, shotguns, pistols and small arms ammunition.
Under British rules, licences should not be granted if there is a strong chance the arms will be used to provoke conflict or as instruments of internal repression.
The chairman said FCO unease about the sale of equipment to Argentina mirrored anxiety within the government triggered by “previous Falklands experience, where British ships were tragically sunk and many people lost their lives”.
Alistair Burt, the minister for counter-proliferation, said Britain had behaved responsibly during the Middle East uprisings.
“The UK has a rigorous export licensing procedure,” he said, according to the Guardian.
“We look at each application on a case-by-case basis. It is wrong to allege that in the runup to the Arab spring UK export controls were lax.
“When the licences in question were issued, they were properly assessed in the light of the prevailing circumstances. Once the circumstances changed, the risk was reassessed and licences were revoked,” he stressed.