UK arms to Israel and a request for feedback from you, dear reader

We had a flurry of activity in the press office late yesterday afternoon, with the Guardian and Daily Mail phoning me in quick succession to ask about a story they’d seen on the BBC and Ha’aretz websites, that the UK had imposed a ‘partial arms embargo’ on Israel.

This meant that Roxanne, my poor visitor from Amnesty Australia, who’d come to talk to me about our blogging exploits, was kept waiting for nearly an hour while I digested the story and worked up our response. Sorry about that, Roxanne!

Sadly it wasn’t quite such a big story as I’d at first thought. The UK was just doing what it’s meant to do – assess each decision to grant an arms export licence against human rights criteria, and revoke licences for weapons or equipment that could be used to commit human rights abuses.

And following reports that Israel’s Saar 4.5 gunboat was used in the recent ‘Operation Cast Lead’ artillery bombardment of Gaza, five (out of a total of 35) UK contracts for naval equipment had been cancelled.

Hardly the arms embargo that Amnesty has been calling for. We’ve documented war crimes from both sides in the conflict and so we’re calling for the suspension of all transfers of military equipment to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk that they will be used for serious violations of human rights.

But media reports today are saying that it might be a slightly bigger deal. The UK’s stopping of some exports to Israel specifically because of human rights abuses during Operation Cast Lead does set a (very positive) precedent. Other countries could follow. Perhaps, in future, the Israeli authorities might find it harder to get hold of the destructive arsenal that they unleashed on civilian areas of Gaza in January.

Ultimately a wider solution is needed. The UN is meeting this week to continue discussions on the adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty that would help control the global flow of weaponry and stop arms getting into the hands of human rights abusers. It’s a treaty that we’ve campaigned hard for: six years ago Amnesty, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms launched the Control Arms campaign to demand such a treaty. On a global scale, as with the specific case of arms to Israel, there’s still a long way to go.

One other thing. Given that Roxanne (from AI Australia) was asking us about blogging, with a view to our Australian colleagues starting their own press team blog, I thought it might be useful to get some feedback from our own blog readers, to pass on to them. So if you have any views about this blog – what’s good about it, what’s bad about it, where we could better, what you would rather we were writing about – please let me know. We’ll tell our colleagues in Oz know what you think. Be gentle with us, though!

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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