The FCO’s human rights work in 2012

Written evidence from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (HR 3)

1. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK was established in 1974 and works to end the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and security, and damages economic development. CAAT believes that large scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems.

2. CAAT's submission to your inquiry covers a number of areas where the UK government's advocacy of human rights is undercut by its arms export promotion and related policies. At the evidence session on 4th May 2013 for your Committee's inquiry into the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain successive witnesses were asked whether human rights' improvements in those countries were more likely to be encouraged if the UK government raised its concerns in private or more publicly. The witnesses indicated that a mixture of both approaches was most likely to be effective. However, whether the approach is public or private, it will be undermined by the UK government's arms export campaigns. These give legitimacy to the governments to which the military equipment is being marketed, and undermine any UK expression of human rights concerns.

3. This point was acknowledged by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), of which your Committee is part, in its July 2012 report. It said that there is an "inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time." It is disappointing that, in its October 2012 response to CAEC, the Government refused to accept the conflict.

4. However, the Government did partly concede the point in its December 2012 response to your Committee's report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office' (FCO) human rights work in 2011. This latter had pointed out the overlap between countries listed by the FCO as being of human rights concern ("countries of concern" and the priority list of arms markets drawn up by the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the Government's arms sales unit. CAAT is pleased that the UKTI DSO priority market list will be discussed with the FCO's Human Rights Minister before it is finalised. This is small step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen if this will change the priority list.

Saudi Arabia

5. One country that has consistently featured as both a "country of concern" and a UKTI DSO priority market is Saudi Arabia. It is ranked at 163 out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's "Democracy Index 2012" which reflected the situation in December 2012. It was 161 out of 167 in the 2011 Index. The FCO itself says: " Key areas of concern to the UK in Saudi Arabia include restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in the Eastern Province and elsewhere in the country, the continued use of the death penalty (where the number of executions remains close to the 2011 figures), restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, discrimination against women, and a justice system which still falls short of international standards."

6. The UK government may have raised these concerns with the Saudi authorities, but the FCO's press archive indicates that this rarely happens publicly. Given Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, more frequent public condemnations would have been expected have the Government's priority not been arms sales. However, even the lip service paid to human rights would have been undermined by Prime Minister David Cameron's November 2012 visit to Saudi Arabia to promote the sale of BAE Systems' Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. 48 remain to be built and delivered under the Salam project, but a price cannot be agreed.

7. The UK media, in a notable change from the times when Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair made similar arms promotion visits , debated the trip. On 5th November 2012 The Guardian editorial said the Prime Minister should admit that the interests of the military-industrial complex were taking precedence over human rights, while the Daily Telegraph headlined its article: "David Cameron defends arms deals with Gulf states". The establishment consensus in favour of arms sales, at least to human right violators, appear ed to be breaking down.

8. In March 2013, the Eurofighter Typhoon price still not having been agreed, the UK government sent Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to Saudi Arabia. The top theme for the royal visit was "military links" and Prince Charles marked the 50th anniversary of the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG). The visit took place immediately after the Saudi authorities executed seven men for armed robbery, two of them juveniles at the time of the offence. It is hardly a surprise that the expressions of concern over capital punishment and other human rights abuses are ignored, if the UK royals are in town promoting arms sales and military links.

9. It is also somewhat surprising that the UK government sent Prince Charles to a SANG event as the Serious Fraud Office is currently investigating allegations of by whistle-blowers of corruption with regards to GPT Communications Ltd, a subsidiary of EADS, and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.


10. Bahrain was not listed by the FCO as a "country of concern", despite its omission from the list having been questioned by your Committee in past years. Ranked at 150 out of 167 on the "Democracy Index", Human Rights Watch reports that Bahraini security forces "had used excessive force against peaceful protesters, and had arbitrarily arrested, tortured, ill-treated, and denied them fair trials" (World Report 2013). Protest leaders remain in prison and the authorities have continued to jail "human rights defenders and individuals for participating in peaceful demonstrations and criticizing officials."

11. Despite this record of repression, the Bahraini authorities have been courted by UKTI DSO in recent months. UKTI DSO's Senior Military Adviser Air-Vice Marshal Nigel Maddox visited in March 2013. He was followed at the end of April by Richard Paniguian, the Head of UKTI DSO, and the Defence Attaché Commodore Christopher Murray. They discussed " bilateral military cooperation" with the Bahrain Minister for Defence Affairs, Lieutenant General Dr. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa.

12. Answering questions at his company's AGM in May, BAE Systems Chair Dick Olver confirmed that BAE had been introduced to the official Bahraini delegation at the Security and Policing exhibition in Farnborough in March 2013. BAE later confirmed to CAAT that it had outlined its cyber defence capabilities.

13. The son of King Hamad, Prince and Royal Guard Commander Lieutenant Colonel Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, visited the Counter Terror Expo 2013 in London in April. In an official statement he stressed the importance of "new technologies to contain the detrimental repercussions of terrorism."

14. In 2012 a human rights group alleged that the Prince had been "personally engaged" in beating, flogging and kicking pro-democracy protesters in April 2011 (Guardian, 20.6.12). Documentation described how Sheikh Nasser, who is the president of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, launched "a punitive campaign to repress Bahraini athletes who had demonstrated their support [for] the peaceful pro-democracy movement." The prince denied the allegations.

15. In the same week as the Counter Terror Expo, a visit to Bahrain by the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture was indefinitely postponed by the Bahrain government.

16. Detica, a BAE-owned cyber-security firm, has an office in Manama, Bahrain ( Tom Lockhart QGM). The Detica page on the Bahraini British Business Forum classifies Detica's business category as a "training company", noting the range of skills of instructors at Detica, including; knowledge of surveillance, counter-surveillance, covert audio and CCTV deployments, covert tracking, and IT exploitation.

17. Foreign Officer Minister Alistair Burt visited Bahrain in March to lend his support to Bahrain's "reform programme". He also attended a reception aboard HMS Monmouth, a frigate that is part of the "considerable contribution to the bilateral defence relationship" (FCO website, 13.3.13). Whatever encouragement for reform the UK gave Bahrain, the military links between the two countries undermine those working for human rights. That it should be felt appropriate to discuss the sale of technologies that can be used for surveillance and repression is astounding.

United Arab Emirates

18. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not feature as a FCO country of concern, but the "Democracy Index 2012" classifies it as an authoritarian regimes and ranks it at 149 out of 167. Human Rights Watch's "World Report 2013" says: "The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) worsened in 2012 as authorities arbitrarily detained and deported civil society activists, and harassed and intimidated their lawyers... The UAE intensified its campaign to silence critics of its ruling elite."

19. The UK government is helping BAE sell 60 Eurofighter jets to the UAE, which was included in David Cameron's November 2012 arms sales trip to the Middle East. From 30th April to 1st May 2013, the ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa, was welcomed by the Queen on a state visit to the UK. BAE's Chief Executive Ian King was a guest at the lunch for the Sheikh at Windsor Castle. Again, it seems, human rights are overlooked in favour of arms export promotion.


20. Libya remains both a "country of concern " and a UKTI DSO priority market. Despite continuing security problems, on 3rd April 2013, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Kent was in Tripoli to host a "Defence and Security Industry Day" - a floating arms fair - organised by UKTI DSO. Eleven companies were there including Babcock International, BAE, General Dynamics, Thales and Ultra (Hansard, 19.3.13 plus update). The UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond arrived in Tripoli prior to the event to discuss "cooperation in the fields of military and security" and opened the arms fair. (Libyan Embassy in London, 3.4.13)

21. Prior to the event, a UKTI official was reported as saying that "training was at the forefront of the services on offer", stating that "To go from having no Typhoons to Typhoons is quite a significant step and one that will take some time". (The National, 24.3.13)

22. Earlier, in December 2012, Ken Clarke, Minister Without Portfolio, led a multi-sector trade delegation to Libya which included arms companies BAE, General Dynamics UK, and Ultra Electronics (Hansard, 14.1.13). A reception was attended by the Libyan Defence Minister Mohammed Al-Bargati (Libya Herald, 4.12.12).


23. The pressure by the UK government to lift the arms embargo on Syria so that it c an arm elements of the opposition is of grave concern. It is regrettable that supplies of " non-lethal" military equipment as well as training have already been provided to some anti-Assad forces. The se forces are largely an unknown quantity, consisting of many different groups, including those of a highly sectarian nature. Many have themselves been accused of human rights abuse.

24. More arms in the country is the last thing the people of Syria need and s uch a military-focused response would likely serve only undermine efforts to negotiate a solution and to protect civilians. At this stage it is impossible to say what power structures will emerge on either side or what form future governing bodies will take. Supplying arms to any group will increase future instability. Arming rebel and opposition groups will have unforeseen long-term consequences for Syria and the region, as, once the arms have been supplied, there is no way to take them back.

25. The UK government should also place pressure on Russia and other supplier countries to stop supplying weapons to the Syrian government, and to end any official UK government relationship with Rosoboronexport (the Russian export corporation) and other agencies that supply arms to Assad. It should also ensure no weaponry supplied to third countries, such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar, is sent on to any faction within Syria and that pressure is placed on countries giving military support to anti-Assad militias, overtly or covertly, to end such support and supplies.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

26. Drone attacks are of major human rights concern, as, even when the victim is the target, this is the death penalty (which the UK has, rightly, long opposed) imposed without a trial. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia have all suffered strikes by US or UK unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) controlled from thousands of miles away. Palestine has been subject to Israeli drone strikes. While official claims are made for the accuracy of the strikes, there have been high numbers of civilian casualties besides the intended victim.

27. After buying three Reapers from the US company General Atomics, the UK began using armed drones in Afghanistan in October 2007. These drones were operated via satellite from US Air Force bases outside Las Vegas, but control moved to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire in April 2013. On 1st January 2013 the UK Ministry of Defence said that UK Reapers had undertaken 363 armed attacks in Afghanistan since 2008.

28. As well as armed drones, the UK has several types of surveillance and targeting drones, most notably Watchkeeper drones being produced by the Israel company Elbit and Thales UK. The first ten were built in Israel, but production is transferring to Leicester with testing taking place in Aberporth. They are due to enter service in 2013.

Arms trade treaty

29. The arms trade treaty agreed at the United Nations on 2nd April 2013 is unlikely to have any impact on arms exports, not least because it talks about "the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests (our emphasis) ... in the international trade in conventional arms." The FCO's Arms Export Policy Department reiterated this saying the treaty recognises states' "legitimate interests in producing, exporting, and importing weapons. International industrial collaboration in arms production will be promoted through the introduction of common standards." UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia's repressive rulers and Russia's to Syria's President Assad seem likely to continue unabated. Yet again, the commercial interests of the arms companies are put before human rights.

30. That the arms trade treaty is unlikely to prevent arms sales to countries of human rights concern was highlighted by the tweets of Michael Aron, the UK's ambassador to Libya, on 2nd April 2013 as the UK's floating arms fair on HMS Kent arrived in Tripoli. He tweeted: "Fantastic news - UN passes historic arms trade treaty by huge majority" followed by "HMS Kent in Tripoli this evening. Thanks to the Captain & crew for a great party (even without alcohol!)" and "UK Minister for Int Security in Libya had a good meeting with Defence Min and Chief of Staff." He obviously did not see the conflict between the promotion of arms sales and the promotion of human rights.

Private military and security companies

31. The FCO's 2012 Human Rights and Democracy report does not mention "corporate mercenaries", now known by their more respectable title of private military and security companies (PMSCs). The activities of such companies, many based in the UK, has, over the years, given rise to major human rights concern. The FCO has been actively working on the issue in the past year - work around which there is cause for disquiet.

32. In 2010, the UK government decided against regulation of PMSCs, instead deciding on a self-regulation scheme. It announced in 2011 it would be co-ordinated by the Security in Complex Environments Group (SCEG) of the arms and aerospace trade association, ADS. At the same time, the UK government became a strong advocate of the International Code of Conduct on Private Security Providers (ICoC), a Swiss government initiative.

33. CAAT, and other campaigning organisations, do not think that the ICoC is a substitute for national regulation, including a ban on combat activities. However, it was felt that the ICoC could increase transparency around PMSCs and help hold PMSCs to account for human rights violations. Companies would be certified, monitored and subject to a grievance procedure.

34. As CAAT understands it, the FCO and SCEG are pushing for an industry-led process, not only in the certification of companies, but also for the monitoring of their activities. They are pressing for an audit of the companies, looking at their management systems but not addressing their impact or performance. There would be no human rights field monitoring.

35. It is astonishing that PMSC personnel holding weapons and potentially killing people are not regulated by the state. However, the new FCO moves regarding the ICoC take the whole concept of self-regulation to a new level, with a total lack of independent scrutiny. It lacks all accountability. CAAT hopes your Committee can raise this with the FCO and revisit the PMSC issue.

22 May 2013

Prepared 17th June 2013