UK should not be a safe haven for brass-plate gun-running companies Amnesty response to Arms Committee report

In response to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Arms Export Controls’ report published today, Amnesty International called for the UK Government to act swiftly to close loopholes which allow for ‘brass-plate’ companies registered in this country to trade arms to countries where human rights violations are committed.

Amnesty also reiterated the committee’s call to ensure that efforts to secure a robust international Arms Treaty – which would successfully stem the transfer of weapons to countries where there is a strong risk of human rights violations being committed – are not compromised by a small handful of states determined to veto or water down commitments.

Amnesty International’s Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:

“A robust and comprehensive international Arms Treaty is desperately needed to help stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers, but content is key and there is a real danger that it could be fatally weakened if consensus is allowed to drive the treaty to the lowest common denominator. World leaders and campaigners have worked far too hard on the Treaty for it to become a worthless piece of paper that will do little to protect people from armed violence.”

Amnesty also expressed concern that ‘brass-plate companies’ – companies registered in the UK owned by non-UK nationals and used to supply weapons and components to countries with questionable human rights records – were able to operate successfully within the UK undetected.

Last year, the committee identified a number of UK-registered companies granted export licences from the Ukraine, according to a list from the Ukrainian government of which the UK government was unaware. Four of these companies have now been identified as similar “brass plate” companies.

Amnesty gave evidence to the committee that at least three other brass-plate companies involved in the transfer of weapons to destinations which clearly risked fuelling grave human rights abuses. Amnesty’s Oliver Sprague highlighted a company owned by two Ukrainians which was registered in Truro, Cornwall and was brokering small arms components to Rwanda.

Amnesty also made reference to another company based in the Isle of Man, again operated by Ukrainians, and one registered in London, which were responsible for arranging the “shipments, chartering the vessels that supplied a huge number of T-72 tanks, armoured vehicles and anti-aircraft guns to southern Sudan, a destination currently subject to an EU arms embargo.

Oliver Sprague said:

“The UK should not be considered a safe place by gun-runners and the like to trade weapons and their components to places where terrible human rights violations persist. It cannot be right that a company can pay a very small token fee, set up an arms company and broker weapons to human rights crisis zones with apparent impunity from detection and prosecution. The Government should make sure it’s sending a clear message that it will not tolerate human rights violations and should make every effort to close down these kinds of operations.”

The Select Committee also reiterated a call made by Amnesty International last week that the UK Government was in danger of dragging its feet on strong commitments it made to strengthen Europe-wide controls on the export of goods which could be used to torture.

Oliver Sprague added:

“To its credit, in October 2007 the UK promised to push the rest of Europe to agree enhanced controls on goods which could be used to commit acts of torture or to set up UK-wide regulations should the EU efforts stall.

“Two years on, we are still waiting for the government deliver on its commitments to stamp out the trade in torture goods. There is no more time for delay. The government must secure an EU agreement and establish specific UK controls by October this year, as that would mark three years since they made their initial commitment.”

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