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Parliamentary Committee Questions UK Arms Exports to Sri Lanka

Parliamentary Committee Questions UK Arms Exports to Sri Lanka

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Published by: Thavam on Jul 18, 2013
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17 July 2013
A report by a parliamentary committee has criticised exports of arms tocountries that the Foreign Office has expressed human rights concernsabout.The House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls concluded intheir 2013 report that over 3,000 export licenses, worth over £12bn, wereapproved by the UK to the 27 countries in question, including Sri Lanka.The report says the sales to Sri Lanka, worth over £8mn raised “veryserious questions”.The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Sir John Stanley, said he wasastonished at the scale of the exports, to countries including China, Iran,Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
When I first wrote to Vince Cable [the Business Secretary] I had no ideathat the figures involved would be so large – I thought someone may haveadded some zeros by mistake; £12bn is an absolutely huge sum. I askedVince Cable to confirm they were accurate and, apart from a smalladjustment for Iran, they all were. “We shall continue to seek more clarification from the Government. Wewould like to know, for example, whether the cryptographic equipment canbe used on internal dissent, and its possible military use. “There are other, quite clear areas of concern; 600 assault rifles were soldto Sri Lanka, despite the very well documented cases of human rights
abuse there. We have to ask the Government why this is the case. Armslicences to Sri Lanka included pistols, small arms ammunition and approvalfor the sale assault rifles. “The Government needs to acknowledge that there’s an inherent conflictbetween strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilststrongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time. Insteadthey continue to claim these two policies ‘are mutually reinforcing’.” SeeVolume I,Volume IIandVolume IIIof the report. Seeherefor full list of goods approved for export.For extracts on Sri Lanka, see below:The Committees recommend that the Government states in its Responsehow the statement made by the FCO Minister Alistair Burt on 20 February2013 that during the period 1 July–30 September 2012 only 2 arms exportlicences were approved to the Sri Lankan military can be reconciled withthe information put on the BIS website for licences approved to Sri Lankain this period as reproduced in paragraph 496 of the Memorandum from theChairman of the Committees in Volume II.The Committees further recommend that the Government in its Responseto this Report states whether it is satisfied that none of the 49 extant UKexport licences to Sri Lanka:a) contravenes the Government’s stated policy that: “We will not issuelicences where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed exportmight provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might beused to facilitate internal repression”; orb) is currently in contravention of any of the arms exports Criteriaset out in the UK’s Consolidated Criteria and the EU CommonPosition including those extant licences to Sri Lanka for: acousticdevices for riot control, body armour, military helmets, all-wheel
drive vehicles with ballistic protection, military support vehicles,assault rifles, components for assault rifles, components for bodyarmour, components for rifles, rifles, small arms ammunition,weapon sights, combat shotguns and equipment employingcryptography. Refer to Volume II, paragraphs 492–499.)***In the Westminster Hall debate on 13 December 2012 on the Committees’ 2012 Report (HC419) Mike Gapes said: A few years ago, during the civilwar in Sri Lanka, an arms embargo was put in place and yet when therewas a ceasefire, that embargo was not maintained—this was under theprevious Government—and the Sri Lankan Government bought all kinds of things, including ammunition, small arms, components and a huge amountof hardware that was used by their armed forces. That ceasefire brokedown after 2002, and in 2009 we saw scenes of absolute carnage andbrutality when the Sri Lankan armed forces decided to eliminate the TamilTigers. I am not here to speak for or defend the Tamil Tigers, but it is clearthat there is strong case for the Sri Lankan Government to participate in aproper independent international inquiry into the war crimes that werecarried out. Many of those crimes were carried out using weaponry thathad been imported from around the world. Officials in the Foreign andCommonwealth Office were unable to tell us whether UK-suppliedammunition, components or weapons were used by Sri Lankan Governmentforces, but I suspect that they were.In replying to the debate the BIS Minister, Michael Fallon, commentedregarding Mike Gapes’ statement that: “I regard him as one of the mostwell informed, perhaps the best informed, Member of the House on SriLanka, and we should take careful note of what he said on that subjecttoday.” 

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