UK arms deals rocket

Official figures just published show that the UK became the world's largest arms dealer last year, thanks to a host of export orders agreed with notorious human rights abusing regimes, like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia.

The UK approved a record £10bn in arms export deals, surpassing even the United States, normally the world's largest arms exporting country. The record orders bring UK arms deals to a $53bn total over the last five years, according to government figures.

The Guardian reports that:
"Shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 the government drew up guidelines covering arms sales. They should not be approved, the regulations say, if the sales risk contributing to internal oppression, external aggression, or regional tensions.

According to the latest annual report on weapons-related exports, the government in 2006 approved arms exports to 19 of the 20 countries it identified as 'countries of concern' for abusing human rights.

They included Saudi Arabia, Israel, Colombia, China, and Russia. The report also reveals that during 2006 the UK authorised the export of more than 15,000 sniper rifles to countries including Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, components for military aircraft and tanks for China, and heavy machine guns for Colombia.

They also included the sale of components for combat aircraft, electronic warfare equipment, helicopters, military aircraft cockpit displays, unmanned vehicles and anti-armour missiles for Israel."

Of course, Northern Ireland itself has a lucrative slice of this world market in military hardware and software.

As revealed by Amnesty International in September last, in our report 'Northern Ireland: Arming the world', international arms deals by local companies could be seeing arms and arms component exports from this part of the UK ending up in countries such as Zimbabwe, China, Burma, Pakistan and Colombia, despite international arms embargoes existing for some of the countries.

The exports demonstrate the continued laxity of arms export controls - deliberate regulatory loopholes which Amnesty is campaigning to close, with some recent successes

Meanwhile, our own Invest NI continues to pour millions of taxpayers' money into the local 'defence industry', over £40m in the four-year period for which we published the public subsidy figures.

While the Northern Ireland Assembly may remain deafening in its silence on the matter, it is clear that not everyone in Northern Ireland approves unreservedly of all military exports from here.

A jury of eleven local people recently unanimously acquited anti-war protestors of criminal damage to arms manufacturer Raytheon's software development centre in Derry. The activists defended their actions as necessary to prevent bigger crimes being committed by the Raytheon-armed Israel at the time of the 2006 conflict with Lebanon. It seems the jury agreed.   

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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