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Zimbabwe votes. Northern Ireland arms.

The electorate of Zimbabwe go to the polls today in a presidential election run-off which is two parts tragedy to one part farce.

The Queen has stripped Robert Mugabe of his knighthood. Nelson Mandela has condemned the Zimbabwean leadership. The Prime Minister has called on UK companies investing in Zimbabwe to think again.  Yet, as the prospect for violence worsens, and its neighbours start to get worried by the unfolding events, we should pause to consider the very real prospect that Northern Ireland workers may have helped to arm Mugabe's military.

As I have blogged before, Amnesty International fears that local companies may have contributed component parts to attack jets, understood to have been sold on to Zimbabwe as well as other human rights abusing regimes such as Burma, Colombia and Pakistan. The lack of controls on arms exports and the lack of transparency in government reporting of such exports means that these indirect exports from Northern Ireland could be helping to arms some of the worst regimes on the planet.

In September 2007, an Amnesty International report, Northern Ireland: Arming the World, revealed that Northern-Ireland based companies, Goodrich Engine Control Systems in Belfast and Martin-Baker Aircraft Company in Co Antrim, may have contributed engine and ejection seat component systems to Chinese K-8 attack jets which were then exported to Zimbabwe.

Goodrich Engine Control Systems is one of the largest international exporters of aerospace supplies and has a base in Belfast. Chinese K-8 Karakorum light attack jets have a Honeywell engine fitted with Goodrich/Lucas FADEC. This aircraft is reported to have been exported by China to a number of countries including Zimbabwe and Myanmar both subject to arms embargoes and to Sri Lanka and Columbia where they have often been used against the civilian population. Due to inadequate transparency in government reporting and the failure of the company to respond to enquiries from Amnesty International, it is impossible to know for certain whether the Belfast plant of Goodrich was responsible for the software to control this Chinese jet engine.

Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd, designs tests and manufactures ejection seats for military aircraft and has a facility at Langford Lodge, Antrim. Various components manufactured by Martin-Baker are used in a number of Chinese aircraft, including the K-8 attack jet, despite China having been the subject of an EU political arms embargo since 1989. These aircraft appear to have been manufactured during the 1990s and sold to a number of countries with poor human rights records including Zimbabwe and Paksitan. Again, the company failed to respond to enquiries from Amnesty International, and we (and the Northern Ireland) public are prevented from knowing for certain whether the Martin-Baker facility here was responsible for systems which have gone into jets now in Mugabe's air force.

Neither company has broken any laws. Let me be very clear about that. That's the point. Inadequate government reporting of arms exports means that third party sales to human rights abusers can often be concealed.

The public, of course, is left ignorant, often just left footing the bill for government subsidy of the industry. In our own case, Invest NI is more than happy to supply Northern Ireland tax-payers' money for this purpose, including paying for trips to international arms fairs where the export deals are done.

Just think on that, as you watch the news over the next few days and see the triumph on the face of Mugabe and the wounds on the bodies of MDC supporters.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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