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UK: MPs highlight loopholes in UK arms legislation

The UK Working Group on Arms (UKWG) (1) welcomes the call to tighten UK arms exports made by MPs in the Commons Quadripartite Committee. The Committee's report (2) published today criticises existing loopholes in UK arms legislation which allow UK military equipment to be sent to countries with human rights concerns and regions of conflict or instability including Israel and Saudi Arabia. The MPs have asked the Government to explain why exports of weapons are granted to destinations listed as “countries of concern” in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Report on Human Rights. (3)

The Committee calls on the government to establish a pilot programme to monitor the end-use of arms and security equipment exported from the UK. In light of the ongoing hostilities between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hizbullah in Lebanon and Northern Israel, the UKWG believes that this pilot programme should be initiated immediately with regard to UK exports to Israel, in particular for exports of components for combat aircraft and combat helicopters. Both sides to this conflict have shown a blatant disregard for the laws of war and civilians on both sides are paying the price. The IDF are reportedly using combat aircraft and attack helicopters against civilian targets resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries. The UK Government can give no assurances that these aircraft do not contain UK-supplied parts.

The Committee also questions the effectiveness of existing legislation in controlling arms brokers and support the introduction of an International Arms Treaty to regulate international arms transfer controls.

The UKWG has been calling for UK legislation to be tightened, and urges the Government to use the opportunity of the review of the Export Control Act next year to implement the Committee’s recommendations. Issues of enforcement remain of concern. Increased resources for policing of the law are needed.

“The current crisis in the Middle East highlights the urgent need for effective end-use monitoring of British arms. For too long the loopholes in UK arms export controls have allowed arms to be exported or brokered to conflict regions or human rights abusers. ” said Paul Eavis, Director of Saferworld.

“The Government must explain why it continues to export weapons to countries where human rights are being abused. It is unacceptable for example, that British components for Apache attack helicopters and F16 strike aircraft used by the Israeli Defence Force could be contributing to grave violations in Lebanon and Gaza” said Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director, Amnesty International UK

“In October, the UK Government plans to table a resolution at the UN to agree a process to begin negotiations for an ATT. The UK must get its own house in order if it is going to effectively champion strengthening arms export controls in the international arena” said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam Control Arms Campaign Manager

The Committee report recommends the Government to:

- Extend extra-territorial controls on arms brokering and trafficking of all controlled goods so that arms traffickers and brokers are subject to UK law wherever they are located.

- Establish a list of countries of concern (to include those on the Human Rights Annual Report listed as “Major countries of concern”) in future annual reports on strategic export controls, and explain the reasons for granting licences for exports to countries on the list.

- Establish a pilot programme of end-use monitoring to ensure that any military equipment that leaves the UK reaches its intended destination and is used in accordance with the conditions of the export licence.

- Consider regulating British companies that produce weapons overseas to ensure they are bound under UK law.

- Ensure the proposed international Arms Treaty to be founded on the existing principles of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Find out more about the Control Arms Campaign

(1) For the purpose of this press release the UK Working Group on Arms comprises: Amnesty UK, British American Security Information Council (BASIC), Oxfam, Saferworld

(2) Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, August 2006, HC873

(3) UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights Annual Report 2005, July 2005, Cm6606

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