Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Saferworld


  1.  Saferworld welcomes the Government's Human Rights Annual Report 2001. The report increases transparency in Government policy and it details a number of important steps and initiatives taken in the last year. This submission focuses specifically on human rights policy with regard to arms exports and military equipment transfers, notably with the publication of the draft Export Control Bill and the Government's report on Strategic Export Controls 2000.

  2.  This submission makes recommendations to the Government to strengthen the Export Control Bill in order to ensure that comprehensive controls are in place to prevent arms being transferred that could be used to abuse human rights. Saferworld also proposes that the Foreign Affairs Committee examine whether some of the arms exports detailed in the Strategic Export Controls report are in line with the Consolidated National and EU Export Criteria. Finally, this submission urges that, in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September, it is imperative that human rights are not sidelined in the fight against terrorism and remain an integral part of arms export control policy.


  3.  In March 2001, the UK Government published a draft Export Control and Non-Proliferation Bill. Following a consultation period, the Government presented a new Export Control Bill to Parliament in June 2001. The Bill is a welcome step in strengthening and developing UK strategic export controls and addresses the call by the Scott Report (1996) for new legislation to govern UK arms exports.

  4.  The Bill is a significant step forward in trying to prevent the transfer of arms by UK companies and citizens into conflict or human rights crisis zones. However, a number of areas have been identified that, if not addressed, could undermine the effectiveness of the legislation.


  5.  One of the Scott Report's main criticisms was that the purposes of export controls were not set out in legislation. The Bill includes a "Schedule of Purposes" for export control. This is an important inclusion, however Saferworld is concerned that reference contained in the draft Bill to the need to consider the consequences of arms exports upon sustainable development has been dropped from the final legislation. All other export criteria, such as the need not to export weapons that could be used for internal repression or human rights abuses, have been included on the face of the bill. The Government has justified the omission on the grounds that a new section, which gives the Secretary of State powers to issue guidance for consideration during the licensing process, covers development issues. However, while Parliament would have to be fully consulted when changes to the Schedule of Purposes were made, no such requirement exists for changes made to the guidance. It is conceivable that in the lifetime of this legislation, reference to the need to consider the impact of arms exports on sustainable development could be removed by Government at any time without due consideration by Parliament.

    —  The Schedule of Purposes should contain explicit reference to the need to ensure that arms transfers do not have an adverse affect on the economy or sustainable development of a country.

  6.  Government policy is based on assessing licence applications on a case-by-case basis. Although this is appropriate in most circumstances, there are concerns that this approach may be too narrow when considering the implications of arms transfers on sustainable development. While one contract may not be significant on its own, if part of a pattern of large-scale procurement it may contribute to a cumulative undermining of the development potential of the recipient state. This should be taken into account in the licensing process.

    —  The Government should amend its current policy and allow for cumulative assessment of the impact of arms export licences on the potential for sustainable development.


  7.  In the past, UK brokers have been free to arrange the delivery of weapons from countries outside the EU to conflict zones with impunity. Often brokers have taken advantage of the large numbers of cheap, surplus weapons available in Central and Eastern Europe and brokered them to other destinations. There is evidence to show that some British dealers and freight companies have participated in the transfer of significant quantities of arms from third countries into war zones, including Rwanda, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

  8.  Under the terms of the Bill, for the first time, all persons in the UK who broker the transfer of arms from one overseas destination to another will require a licence for their activities. However, the Government has indicated in the draft Secondary Legislation (published as dummy orders in October 2001) that it will not introduce controls on the activities of UK citizens operating overseas. This is contrary to the Government's Manifesto Commitment that stated that it would introduce a licensing system "to control the activities of arms brokers and traffickers wherever they located". If the new legislation covers arms brokers only where part of their activities take place within the UK, UK passport-holders could simply travel abroad to conduct their business. This is a serious loophole that would allow UK citizens to continue to supply arms to regimes that may use them to abuse human rights.

    —  The Government must honour its manifesto commitment and ensure the regulation of arms brokers will cover all UK persons irrespective of the location of their operations.


  9.  Significant progress has been made in opening up the UK export licensing system to parliamentary and public oversight. However, the draft Bill does not legislate for prior parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licence applications. The joint Quadripartite Select Committee (QSC), comprising the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, has argued that a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny (involving themselves) should be introduced in the UK. The Government rejected the proposal for prior scrutiny on the grounds that it might confuse the relationship between the Government and Parliament, would impinge upon commercial confidentiality and would hinder British companies' competitiveness by slowing down the licensing procedure. The QSC addressed these concerns in a subsequent report, however the Government has regrettably maintained its position that such a system would be unworkable. This has potential implications for human rights as it means that MPs will not be able to raise concerns about the possible use of equipment for internal repression until after the export licence has been granted.

    —  The Government should reconsider its position and establish a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licences to ensure consistent application of the UK criteria for arms exports, the EU Code and the purposes of the Export Control Bill. Prior scrutiny measures exist in other countries, like the USA and Sweden, without risk to commercial confidentiality.


  10.  There is an increasing trend for UK companies to manufacture arms overseas. Controlling this type of production involves additional challenges to those posed by direct exports. The Government has acknowledged the need to address the problem of arms manufactured overseas under licence from UK companies, and has stated its intention to advocate changes to the EU Code of Conduct to address the issue. However, the concern here is that effective control of the ultimate use of equipment manufactured or technology transferred through licensed production overseas requires explicit Government authorisation of the production agreement itself, an approach which the Government has rejected. This increases the risk that arms manufactured under licence overseas from a UK company could be transferred to a regime that uses them to violate human rights.

    —  The Government must take responsibility for preventing licensed production overseas from contributing to destabilising accumulations of arms and breaches of international law in the same way it does for direct exports.


  11.  The last few years have witnessed numerous instances where arms of UK origin have been diverted for purposes or to destinations contrary to the Government's intentions. The Government has stated that it is now taking greater consideration of the possibility of arms being diverted to undesirable users or usage when assessing licence applications, and has already put in place additional procedures to avert this. However, the Bill does not address any specific measures for monitoring controlled goods after export. This means that no mechanism is in place to verify whether British-made weapons are being used for internal repression in recipient countries.

    —  The Government should strengthen and develop systems for end-use certification and monitoring that grant explicit authority to revoke licences where end-use understandings are broken.


  12.  The Government's report on Strategic Export Controls 2000 is a welcome step towards greater transparency. However, it highlights a number of potential exports of concern. Saferworld urges a more rigorous implementation of export policy and asks the Foreign Affairs Committee to examine whether the following exports are in line with the Consolidated National and EU Export Criteria.


  13.  Saferworld is concerned over exports of military equipment to Angola, potentially repressive equipment to Colombia, and small arms to Sri Lanka—all of which are engaged in protracted internal conflicts. Large amounts of small arms have also been licensed to Nepal and the Philippines who are facing insurgencies. It is questionable whether these exports are in keeping with the criteria that arms exports will not be licensed "which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or existing tensions or conflicts".

    Angola—components for military bridge, military trailers, military utility vehicles.

    Colombia—stun grenades, smoke hand grenades, military communications equipment.

    Nepal—335 small arms (including 320 semi-automatic pistols) and body armour.

    Philippines—400 semi-automatic pistols.

    Sri Lanka—75 sub-machine guns and four semi-automatic pistols, armoured all-wheel drive vehicles, components for heavy machine gun and for armoured fighting vehicle.

  14.  Saferworld is concerned about the following arms exports to countries with poor human rights records. It is questionable whether these are in keeping with the criterion that exports will not be licensed "if there is a clear risk that the proposed equipment might be used for internal repression".

    Bahrain—171 small arms (including 150 sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic pistols).

    Indonesia—components for combat aircraft and combat helicopters.

    Kenya—small arms ammunition, stun grenades, body armour.

    Mexico—anti-riot shields, small arms ammunition.

    Turkey—body armour, small arms ammunition and small calibre artillery ammunition.

    Saudi Arabia—body armour, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition.

    Zambia—400 sub-machine guns, 400 semi-automatic pistols, grenade launchers.


  15.  Saferworld is concerned about the following exports to countries in regions of conflict or instability. Parliament should examine the implementation of the criterion that export licences will not be issued "if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim". The UK is exporting with a potentially offensive use to India and Pakistan (in dispute over Kashmir), Israel and Lebanon (in high tension in the Middle East), and Morocco (in dispute over Western Sahara).

    India—components and technology for combat aircraft and combat helicopters, components and technology for surface-to-air missiles.

    Israel—demolition charges, general purpose machine guns, rifles, small arms ammunition and components for small calibre artillery ammunition, components for air-to-surface missile, armoured fighting vehicle, armoured personnel carrier, combat aircraft, combat helicopter and tank.

    Lebanon—233 shotguns, 30 general purpose machine guns.

    Morocco—175 small arms (including assault rifles, rifles, revolvers, sub-machine guns and shotguns) all on temporary export licences.

    Pakistan—components for combat helicopter, 171 shotguns, military communications equipment.


  16.  Now more than ever, it is vital that the UK apply a restrictive interpretation of the EU Code criteria, especially for arms transfers to those states most closely affected by the situation in Afghanistan. Commentators have raised potential concerns over internal uprisings in certain countries (eg Pakistan), renewed regional conflict (eg between India and Pakistan in Kashmir), increased regional instability (in the Middle East) and prospects that other states in the region may use the current climate as a pretext for clamping down on other forms of internal dissent. Now is a time for increased restraint in arms exports and it is important that the increasing moves towards relaxing export controls in the US do not have a knock-on effect on UK and EU policy.

  17.  There have been signs in the last two months that the current crisis is impacting on British foreign policy. British opposition to Russian involvement in Chechnya has softened with Prime Minister Blair quoted as saying: "It is very obvious to us that those militants who are trying to oppose [Russian forces] in Chechnya are connected with international terrorism."[5]And The Guardian has reported that "Mr Blair has even promised to renew defence links with Pakistan."[6] At an International Question Time fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Ben Bradshaw, the Minister responsible for arms exports in the Foreign Office, questioned whether it was right to refuse to export weapons to Algeria, Indonesia and Sri Lanka as they were democratically-elected governments facing internal terrorist threats. It is important that the new climate does not lead to countries' attitudes to terrorism overriding other concerns about the impact exports may have on exacerbating internal conflict or fuelling internal repression.

  18.  As one of the main arms-supplying states of the EU, the UK should also take a lead in encouraging other EU states to implement responsible arms export policies at this time. Furthermore, as a key ally of the US and as its main supporter in this conflict, the UK should seek to act as a restraining influence upon the US. There is also a need to co-ordinate restraint with other partners in the new "coalition against terrorism". The Pakistan News Service reported on 9 October that Russia is planning a shipment of $45 million of arms to the Northern Alliance, including tanks, combat vehicles, small arms and ammunition. Given the past experiences listed above of arming unstable actors in pursuit of short-term foreign policy goals, the UK should work with all its partners in ensuring that these earlier mistakes are not repeated.

    —  Saferworld recommends that the UK Government institute a policy of presumption of denial for arms exports to all countries in Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. This would mean that export licence applications would be refused unless there was demonstrable proof that the arms were necessary for self-defence.


November 2002

5   "EU caves in to Putin over Chechnya," David Cronin, European Voice, 4-10 October 2001. Back

6   "Musharraf dismisses two Islamist Generals," Luke Harding, The Guardian, 9 October 2001, p 4. Back

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