Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


Past exports

  8. Zimbabwe has for some years been a standard destination for UK arms exports. The Minister referred in oral evidence to the range of lethal equipment, including sub-machine guns and ammunition, licensed prior to Zimbabwe's intervention in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in August 1998.[7] In the 1980s British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) signed contracts for the supply to Zimbabwe of around a dozen Hawk aircraft. These aircraft were delivered over a 10-year period.

9. The Government's First Annual Report, covering the period from May 1997 to December 1997, shows 28 standard individual export licences (SIELs) and 4 Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs) for goods on the Military List for export to Zimbabwe, and military equipment exports worth £220,000. The 1998 Annual Report shows 33 SIELs and 14 OIELs for Military List goods, together with military equipment exports worth £50,000. No indication was given in either Report that any particular special regime was being applied to exports to Zimbabwe. Most of the licences given were for small arms; there were also licences for a variety of spares for military aircraft and sub-machine guns. Most of the licences issued in 1998 and listed in the 1998 Annual Report, including those for military aircraft spares and for sub-machine guns, were granted before the August 1998 intervention by Zimbabwe in the DRC.

August 1998

  10. Following the August 1998 intervention by Zimbabwe in the DRC, the Minister told us that no equipment for "aggressive ends" had been licensed. Mr Hain described this as "a very clear change of policy".[8] Licences granted after August 1998 were categorised by him as "things like sights for sporting rifles, sporting shotguns, sporting ammunition and so on".

11. We procured from the Government details of Military List SIELs and OIELs granted and refused for Zimbabwe since August 1998, in order to be able to report to the House whether the policy, not declared at the time, of restricting licences to Zimbabwe to non-military goods had in fact been carried out. A SIEL for military use signal equipment spares was granted in October 1998; several OIELs covering Zimbabwe among other nations had been granted for military signals systems and similar equipment shortly before the August 1998 interventions. There were no other Military List SIELs granted to which we consider the attention of the House should be drawn.

12. An OIEL was granted in November 1998 for components for a range of British aircraft in use in a number of countries, including the Canberra, Hawk, Hunter and Islander aircraft in Zimbabwe. This followed several similar OIELs given to other exporters between April and June 1998. In May 1999 an OIEL was granted covering components for military vehicles; and in June 1999 for military air traffic control radar.

13. The Minister referred in evidence more than once to a number of items of aggressive equipment which were not licensed over the period between August 1998 and February 2000.[9] Only one licence application was actually refused during that period, in March 1999 for military equipment.[10] The Government told us after the Minister's oral evidence that -

    " the Government did not actually refuse licences to Zimbabwe for helicopter spares and sub machine guns during this period; rather, it did not issue any, because no such applications were received".[11]

Potential exports may of course have been discouraged at the Form 680 pre-licensing stage. When the embargo was applied in May 2000, several licence applications made in 1998 and 1999 and still pending were finally refused.

14. Although there was no formal or even informal arms embargo on Zimbabwe after August 1998, it is our understanding that there was a policy, not announced to Parliament, or apparently to exporters, of operating a more restrictive regime than hitherto towards arms exports to that country. We have found some evidence to suggest that it was not as restrictive as suggested to us in oral evidence by the Minister, in particular as regards the grant of several OIELs in late 1998 and early 1999 for components for military goods. These licences may well have been used to supply spares for military equipment used for intervention in the DRC, including aircraft spares. We recognise that the Government might have been on difficult ground in refusing the application for the OIEL granted in November 1998 for aircraft spares, since there were in force several other similar OIELs already granted. These OIELs could however have been amended by removal of Zimbabwe as a permitted destination, obliging the intending exporter to seek a SIEL instead. This was indeed the course of action eventually followed in February 2000.

15. At our suggestion, DTI took the exceptional step of contacting the three companies with OIELs for the export of Hawk spares to Zimbabwe to discover if the OIELs had been used in the period from June 1999 to February 2000. Two had not been used in this period; one had been used for one very minor shipment.[12] No great harm has been done. We conclude that it was an error of judgement to have granted several Military List OIELs in late 1998 and early 1999 covering Zimbabwe, and that it would have been wiser to suggest to the exporters that they submit individual licence applications for these goods.

June 1999 Declaration

  16. In June 1999, following the failure of efforts to bring about a general cease-fire in the DRC, the Presidency of the EU issued a Declaration on arms trade in the region, committing Member States to rigorous application of the existing criteria in the EU Code of Conduct.[13] Such a Declaration has no legal status, but Member States are clearly under some moral obligation to respect its terms.[14] It does not in any event seem to have led to any substantial change in UK policy towards licensing of arms for Zimbabwe.

Licence applications for Hawk spares

  17. In the course of applying the more restrictive policy, the issue arose of what decision to take on seven applications for SIELs for the supply of spares for Hawk aircraft. Two applications were made by company A in April 1999; three together by company B in May 1999; one by company B in June 1999; and one — substantially the largest in value — by company A in August 1999. The total value of these licences was around £480,000, 70 per cent of which was attributable to the August 1999 licence application. For all the Government knew, and in the absence of an embargo, the Hawk spares covered by these seven applications could quite properly have been supplied during 1999 by holders of the OIELs referred to above. We now know that one small delivery was indeed made under an existing OIEL, in July 1999.[15]

February 2000 policy

  18. Following reports in the press in January 2000 of internal Government disagreements on dealing with applications for licences for Hawk spares for Zimbabwe, the Prime Minister announced in a Written Answer of 9 February 2000 a "tightened" policy on arms exports to Zimbabwe, and to other intervening countries.[16] Its principal points were

      (a)  removal of Zimbabwe from existing OIELs for any equipment which might be deployed in the DRC, and refusal of new OIELs for such equipment;
      (a)  refusal of licences for "new military dual-use equipment where there is a clear risk that it would be used in the DRC";
      (a)  an explicit commitment to "take into account the wider implications of forcing UK companies to break existing obligations " when looking at licence applications for spares for UK equipment already supplied under pre-existing contracts.

19. The existence of OIELs for equipment which might be deployed in the DRC represented an open door for the export of military material to Zimbabwe, primarily aircraft and aircraft weapon spares, but also radars, military computers, and military vehicle spares. Zimbabwe was removed as a permitted destination from these OIELs on 22 and 23 February 2000. We have referred above to the imprudence of granting several new OIELs for Military List goods after August 1998. A number of such OIELs pre-dated Zimbabwe's intervention in the DRC. It is our conclusion that the February 2000 decision to remove Zimbabwe from Military List and some other OIELs could and should have been taken in August 1998, or at the latest in June 1999.

Granting of licences for Hawk spares

  20. The significance of the reference in the 9 February statement to case-by-case decisions on individual licences taking into account UK companies' obligations became clear when on 24 February 2000 the seven outstanding licence applications for Hawk spares were granted. It is not disputed that the Hawks have been used in the intervention in the DRC, and that there remains a clear risk that they might be so used again. Without these spares it has been widely reported that two of the Hawks would be unable to operate. The Minister has accepted that the spare parts could readily have been used in the two Hawks in service in the DRC.[17] No end-use conditions were placed on the deployment of the aircraft for which the spare parts were to be supplied.[18] The Minister described the licensing of the spares as "a very isolated exception" to the UK's policy of not supplying arms to Zimbabwe since August 1998.[19] They represented in his words "a particularly difficult category."[20]

21. The particular difficulty seen by the Government in the case of the Hawk spares arose from the contractual obligation on BAE Systems to facilitate the supply of spares for 15 years after delivery of the aircraft.[21] BAE Systems and the Government have provided us in confidence with the dates on which contracts were signed and deliveries made, and also the date from which the 15 year support contract runs. There are a number of years still to run. This contractual obligation can be , and has now been, overridden by a Ministerial licensing decision.[22] Such a decision is only taken after serious consideration of the impact on the reputation of the UK as a supplier of defence material.[23] In February 2000, the Government evidently decided that the balance was in favour of allowing the contractual obligations of a company, and the need to maintain the UK's standing as an exporter of such goods, to override a general policy against supplying spares for lethal equipment used by Zimbabwe in its intervention in the DRC.

May 2000 embargo

  22. On 3 May 2000, following worsening violence within Zimbabwe directed against opponents of the regime and white farmers and their employees, and the failure of attempts to reach a settlement with the Government of Zimbabwe, the Foreign Secretary announced in an oral statement to the House that, among other measures, there would be an arms embargo against Zimbabwe, and a review of existing SIELs and OIELs.[24] On 12 May 2000 he announced the revocation of a number of existing licences and removal of Zimbabwe as a permitted destination for OIELs.[25]

  • existing SIELs were revoked, comprising four issued in March 2000 for shotguns for private use: the seven Hawk spares licences granted in February 2000; and four 1998 licences for individual weapons or target ammunition.
  • existing OIELs were amended by removal of Zimbabwe as a permitted destination, covering sporting guns and equipment, a range of computer and electronic equipment, and the military air traffic control radar referred to above.
  • outstanding SIEL applications were refused, mainly for further Hawk spares, but also for night vision equipment.
  • outstanding OIEL applications which included Zimbabwe as a permitted destination had Zimbabwe refused as a destination.[26]

One of the seven February 2000 Hawk licences revoked had been used, with most of the goods exported. A second licence had been used to around 20 per cent by value. The other five were returned unused, including the licence accounting for 70 per cent by value of the February 2000 group of licences.

Embargo and EU

  23. There is now a national embargo on licences for export of arms to Zimbabwe. It is not an EU embargo. The informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers at Sao Miguel from 6-7 May 2000 produced a declaration concerned with the internal situation in Zimbabwe rather than the question of arms sales.[27] The Minister has told us that the Government is encouraging our EU partners to follow UK policy and had " asked them to consider adopting similarly robust policies themselves".[28] Efforts are being made within the framework of the CFSP.

24. We have no evidence to suggest that EU Member States are seeking to export weapons to Zimbabwe. They would, however, be under no obligation to inform the UK even if they were of goods identical to those the subject of a UK refusal or revocation. Refusals as a result of national embargoes are not automatically notified under the EU Code of Conduct, which covers only those which are refused under the terms of the Code on a case-by-case basis. Details will however be circulated where a refusal could be justified " by reference to the Code criteria alone, irrespective of our national embargo."[29]

25. We consider that this exposes a potentially serious flaw in the EU Code of Conduct. Member States will of course wish to retain the right to decide after consultation whether or not to grant an export licence in a particular case. But there can be no sense in their being left in ignorance of refusals by a fellow Member State. The UK public would be rightly indignant if Hawk spares were now to be freely exported to Zimbabwe from another Member State without at least the courtesy of a prior consultation with the UK. If another Member State were operating an embargo on a country where we did not judge it necessary to do so - for example, the policy pursued by some Nordic countries towards countries in the Gulf area - there would be no harm in the UK at least consulting those states where it wished to make an export which they had turned down. We appreciate the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Code. That does not mean it should not be open to constructive criticism. We recommend that at the next annual review of the EU Code of Conduct the Government raise with our partners the issue of how best to deal with national embargoes in terms of denial notifications.


  26. It may be argued that little harm has been done by this confused episode. The Zimbabwe Air Force has in the end received only a few thousand pounds worth of spares for its Hawk aircraft, under an OIEL dating back to 1998, and under two of the seven licences given in February 2000 and revoked three months later. Our examination has however highlighted two matters of wider concern.

27. The lack of transparency: had it not been for the very well-informed leak in the newspapers of 20 January 2000, and the public announcement in May 2000 of an embargo, it is unlikely that the question would ever have come to Parliament's attention. The earliest normal opportunity for it to do so would have been as a result of detailed examination by a select committee of the Annual Report for 2000. On past experience, publication of this Report cannot be expected before the summer of 2001. Not until the end of 2001 would the issue have become known. The case for some " real-time" prior scrutiny of licensing of arms exports is significantly reinforced by our examination of the Zimbabwe licences.

28. The problem with OIELs: we are concerned at the extent to which a policy of stricter or tougher examination of licence applications is in practice undermined by the unfettered and unmonitored use of existing Open Individual Export Licences. For all the period during which Government examined the question of the Hawk spares licences, Hawk spares could have been freely delivered to Zimbabwe under Open Licences given in recent years to several companies. We recommend that the Government re-examine the system for inter-departmental scrutiny of applications for OIELs for sensitive destinations, to ensure that Ministers are fully aware of the significance of existing licences when examining applications for new licences.

29. In August 1998 the armed forces of Zimbabwe intervened in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UK Government seems to have operated thereafter a tighter policy on licensing the export of arms which might be used in the conflict, but without the clarity of a formal embargo or even a public policy statement. After the breakdown of negotiations between the parties in mid-1999, the Government, together with the Dutch Government, took the initiative in sponsoring an EU Declaration calling for rigorous enforcement of the terms of the EU Code of Conduct. Following a newspaper leak of internal discussions on seven licence applications for Hawk spares, the Prime Minister announced in February 2000 a tighter regime on arms exports to Zimbabwe. Two weeks later seven licences were given for spares for Zimbabwe's Hawk aircraft. Described by the Minister of State in evidence to us as " a very isolated exception", this decision both undermined the force of the June 1999 EU Resolution which the UK had co-sponsored and seems to have constituted a breach of the UK's national criteria on arms exports. Three months later these and other licences were revoked as a result of the serious deterioration in Zimbabwe's internal situation, unconnected to the material to be supplied. We recognise the real dilemma faced by Ministers in balancing the contractual obligations of a company and the reputation of the UK as a supplier of defence material against its desire to ensure that UK arms are not used in "international aggression" or to " affect adversely regional stability in any significant way", as the UK's arms export criteria state. The episode reveals nonetheless a disturbing degree of muddle and confusion arising from these conflicting objectives.

7  Qq 11, 16, 30 Back

8  Q 11 Back

9  Qq 11, 14, 16, 19, 30 Back

10  Ev, p 21, A7 (a)  Back

11  Ibid Back

12  Ev, p 22-3 Back

13  Ev, p 35 Back

14  Qq 44-6 Back

15  Ev, p 23 Back

16  HC Deb, 9 Feb 00, col 184w ; see Ev, p 17 Back

17  Qq 6, 12 Back

18  Ev, p 21, A 6 (b) Back

19  Q 18: also Q 11, Q 14 Back

20  Q 16 Back

21  Qq 33 & 38: Ev, p 21, A6 (a) (iv) Back

22  Q 29 Back

23  Qq 28-9: 32: see also Cm 4799, Rec 8 Back

24  HC Deb, 3 May 00, cols 149-162 Back

25  HC Deb, 12 May 00, cols 493-4w Back

26   Details supplied in confidence; see also Q 34 Back

27  Ev, p 21, A 7 (c) Back

28  Ev, p 18 Back

29  Qq 47ff: Ev, p 18 Back

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