Libya: UK Government may have licensed crowd control equipment used to crush protesters

You Tube images appear to link UK company to lethal anti-protestor actions

A Leicestershire company may have supplied Colonel Gaddafi’s Libyan government forces with armoured crowd control vehicles used to crush protests in which as many as 200 people have reportedly been killed, said Amnesty International today.

The company, NMS International Group Ltd, based in the small east Midlands town of Market Harborough, has manufactured armoured crowd control vehicles that look identical to ones recently seen patrolling the streets of protest-hit streets in Libya.

Few media reports of the protests in Libya have been emerging from the country, but amateur video recently posted to YouTube (see below) include images of the distinctive dark-blue armoured crowd control vehicles deployed on the streets in unnamed locations in Libya.

The UK government’s own reports on arms exports do not specify which manufacturers have actually supplied equipment for export to Libya. However NMS International was responsible for the UK stand at “LibDex 2010”, an arms fair held in Libya last year (see below), and according to the company’s website it was also at LibDex 2008 and has an office in Tripoli. The NMS International website described the 2010 fair as “an ideal opportunity to showcase the best of British equipment and training” to Libyan officials, adding that “A number of new leads were generated and followed up during the show.”  

There is no claim that NMS International has acted illegally or supplied any of these vehicles or related equipment without the necessary arms export licences from the UK government. However, Amnesty says the sales raise very serious questions about the government’s export licensing procedures. In 2008 the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls expressed serious “misgivings” about the UK’s decision to allow armoured vehicles and water cannon to be exported to Libya in light of risks that such equipment could be used to commit human rights abuses.

When Amnesty contacted NMS International this week it was told no-one was available to provide comment from the company. Today, however, NMS International was quoted by the Guardian newspaper defending the sales.

Late last week the UK government announced that it was suspending eight export licences for arms and related equipment for Libya, along with a similar suspension of licences for UK-supplied equipment to Bahrain.  

Reports from hospitals in eastern Libya indicate that as many as 200 people have been killed by security forces in recent days. Hospital staff told Amnesty that they were struggling to cope with the number of casualties. The true number of deaths could be much higher as further reports from hospitals emerge, including from families who have buried their dead without taking the bodies to hospitals.

Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:

“As we’ve already seen with Bahrain, it looks as if the government’s risk-assessment system isn’t working. We need much tighter checks when arms and security equipment are being despatched in cases like this.

“These licences should never have been granted in the first place given the reams of credible information supplied to the UK government by Amnesty and others relating to the Libyan government’s extreme intolerance of all forms of dissent.

“We need a comprehensive arms embargo and immediate freeze on all further and pending shipments of arms and security equipment to Libya, and a halt to similar transfers to Yemen, Bahrain and other protest-hit countries in the region.

“This grave situation adds even greater urgency to next week’s UN negotiations on the proposed Arms Treaty. There’s a pressing need for strong international export controls to prevent weapons, munitions and related equipment such as police and internal security vehicles, from ending up in the hands of human rights abusers.

“When governments get around the table to negotiate the details of the treaty, they’ll need to be looking closely at recent events in Libya, Bahrain and other countries in the region to ensure that much-needed lessons are learnt.”

Amnesty supporters are currently calling on the UK government to tighten export controls on UK military, security and policing equipment and support a rigorous Arms Treaty in forthcoming negotiations.

Notes to editors

Vehicles which look identical to be the NMS International-produced  armoured crowd control vehicles can be seen in the “ Streets on Fire" #Libya #Feb17 rdquo; video (at approximately 0.30 seconds and 1.33 seconds).

Stills from the video and images of vehicles from the NMS International website

A screen-grab from NMS International’s website showing its dark blue crowd control vehicles.

NMS International’s brochure for LibDex 2010 [PDF]

The UK government reportedly licensed £33,889,335’s worth of military and security equipment to Libya in the year to 1 October 2010, including ammunition, crowd control equipment and tear gas.

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