UK: FCO Human Rights Report reveals weak controls on arms sales to Libya and other countries

Amnesty International today (31 March) welcomed the publication of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Human Rights Report 2011. But the organisation warned that the report reveals inconsistencies between policies facilitating arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa, and the UK’s stated aims of upholding human rights and protecting civilians in the region.

Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:

“The FCO report itself is a welcome tool for benchmarking human rights progress and holding governments to account. But the content, particularly regarding arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa, reveals inconsistencies with the UK’s stated aims of upholding human rights and protecting civilians.

“We are now seeing how arms and equipment sold to repressive regimes are being used against civilians. Yet the report shows deep flaws in the system for licensing such arms sales.

“Licences should be rejected where there is a clear risk that equipment would be used in human rights abuses. Yet it seems, from this report, that actual evidence of equipment having already been used for abuse is often required before a licence is denied. This appears to change the policy from a risk-based to an evidence-based system - seriously weakening arms controls and making it easier for dangerous equipment to get into the hands of known human rights abusers.

”Government decisions to license armoured vehicles and crowd control equipment to Libya, for example, were clearly wrong. We have serious concerns about the role of subjective and political criteria influencing such important decisions which impact on the protection of civilians.

“The review of the government’s export licensing regime must remedy this situation as a matter of urgency.

“The role that many arms suppliers have played in the current crisis in the Middle East and North Africa has yet again demonstrated the need for tougher international controls. As we have seen on the streets of various cities, this must include crowd control equipment and ammunition. Current events show that the need for active leadership on negotiations for the UN Arms Treaty is more pressing than ever.”

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