Over £60 million worth of weapons have been sold by the United Kingdom to “countries of concern” this year, including Sri Lanka, according to figures revealed by the Commons committees on arms export controls.
Sri Lanka received more than £8 million worth of arms including shotguns, assault rifles and ammunition.
Former Conservative defence minister Sir John Stanley, who chairs the committee, said in a recent parliamentary debate that a “significant change in policy” had made it easier to export arms to countries which have poor human rights records.
Peter Hain, a former Foreign Office minister said,
“The present government has run a coach and horses through our arms export controls, circumventing the legislation we put in place by putting a particular spin on it. It has enabled them to sell arms to countries and for purposes that should not be allowed under the legislation.”
“There is a clear policy in the legislation that arms should only be sold to countries for defensive purposes and not for internal suppression or external aggression.”
The case of Sri Lanka, one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 28 countries of top human rights concern, was brought up by Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn who expressed “deep concerns” over the island.
“I would be grateful if the Minister could give us an indication of the Government’s current thinking about the supply of arms to Sri Lanka,” said Corbyn. “I know that the Prime Minister took the correct and quite brave decision to go to Jaffna during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and he obviously expressed concern about the treatment of Tamil people at that stage. Are the Government now planning to resume the sale of equipment to Sri Lanka, or not?”
In response to the questions raised, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Tobias Ellwood said,
“We scrutinise the process of approving or not approving arms exports, although the final decision is with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, not the Foreign Office.”
“All export licence applications are carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, taking into account all relevant factors at the time of the application, including the prevailing circumstances in the recipient country, the nature of the goods, the identity of the end user and the stated end use. A licence will not be issued if doing so would be inconsistent with any provision of the criteria, including if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression or external aggression.”