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MPs call for tightening over arms exports for external repression

23 July 2014

The 2014 Report of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) once again scrutinizes the Government’s arms exports and arms control policies and practices in unprecedented depth and detail.

The Committees’ scrutiny encompasses the Government’s quarterly information on arms export licences, arms export control legislation and procedures, organisational and operational issues, Arms Export Agreements, Arms Control Agreements, arms export control policies, and arms exports to Countries of concern.

New areas of scrutiny for the Committees

The Committees have extended their scrutiny for the first time to:

  • the use of UK subsidiaries to export arms
  • arms control and barrel bombs
  • exports of cryptographic equipment, software, technology and components
  • exports to the Ukraine, including sniper rifles

The Committees have also widened and deepened their scrutiny of UK Government approval of the export to Syria of dual-use chemicals that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons.

Scrutiny of FCO’s Countries of Human Rights concern

Once again the Committees’ Report details for each of the FCO’s 28 named Countries of Human Rights concern the number of extant strategic export licences for each country, their value (where provided by the Government) and the nature of the strategic exports that have been approved. The table in the Report summarising this information is as follows:

(SIELs are Standard Invidual Export Licences, OIELs are Open Invidual Export Licences)

Country Value of SIELs (£) Number of extant licences (SIELs and OIELs)
Burma 3,273,826 10
Central African Republic (CAR) 197,000 4
China 1,688,716,748 1146
Colombia 32,494,783 65
Cuba 0 4
Democratic People's Republic of Korea 8,340 1
Democratic Republic of Congo 2,173,287 27
Eritrea 968,640 7
Fiji 37,720 5
Iran 41,826,894 53
Iraq 32,458,255 80
Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories 7,912,249,591 470
Russia 131,542,677 285
Saudi Arabia 1,677,486,389 486
Somalia 4,261,022 33
South Sudan 1,795,580 13
Sri Lanka 49,645,755 79
Sudan 10,225,162 7
Syria 217,792 5
Turkmenistan 5,154,652 28
Uzbekistan 3,171,133 14
Vietnam 28,447,422 74
Yemen 1,596,408 12
Zimbabwe 2,636,291 60
Total 11,915,310,330 3,379

N.B The monetary values shown are for SIELs only as the Government does nor supply the value of OIEL licences

Details of the extant strategic exports to each of the countries in the above table are at Annex 9 of Volume II to this Report.

Additional Countries of Concern to the Committees

The Committees have provided the equivalent information for 5 Additional Countries of concern to the Committees. Four of these countries — Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine — are countries where there are grounds for Human Rights concerns, but are not currently within the FCO’s designated 28 Countries of Human Rights concern. The remaining country — Argentina — is a country of arms export concern by virtue of its policy towards the Falkland Islands. The table in the Report that summaries the information for the additional 5 Countries of concern is as follows:

Country Value of SIELs (£) Number of extant licences
Argentina 26,586,517 64
Bahrain 49,663,146 115
Egypt 65,825,601 129
Tunisia 2,005,887 43
Ukraine 21,902,281 70
Total 165,989,231 421

N.B The monetary values shown are for SIELs only as the Government does not supply the value of OIEL licences

Quote from the Chairman

The Chairman of the Committees, Sir John Stanley, said:


"Following the destruction of Malaysian airliner MH17 and all on board, I sent a further letter yesterday to the Foreign Secretary on UK arms exports to Russia which the Committees have been scrutinising in detail. A copy of this letter is attached."

Arms export policy

"The most significant change in the Government’s policy on arms exports since the Committees’ 2013 Report is the dropping of the wording in the previous October 2000 Consolidated Criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression” when the Business Secretary announced the present Government’s revised Consolidated Criteria on 25 March 2014.

This wording was dropped notwithstanding the fact that the then Foreign Secretary had unequivocally confirmed that this remained the Government’s policy in his Oral Evidence to the Committees on 7 February 2012.

The Committees have unanimously recommended that this policy wording, which represents an important safeguard against UK arms exports being used for internal repression, be reinstated."

Dual-use chemicals to Syria

"The Committees have been unable to make a complete Report to the House of Commons of its detailed scrutiny of Government policy since 2004 on the export to Syria of dual-use chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons because the Government refused to disclose to the Committees the names of the companies to whom export licences were granted unless the Committees undertook to take evidence from the companies in private, but not in public.

Having carried out their detailed scrutiny, and having taken evidence from 2 of the 3 companies concerned in private, the Committees have concluded that the decision of the previous Government to give 5 export licence approvals for a dual-use chemical to Syria between July 2004 and May 2010 “was highly questionable” and that the decision of the present Government to give 2 export licence approvals for dual-use  chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 “was irresponsible."

Priority markets for arms exports

The Committees welcomed the decision of the Business Secretary to provide the Committees with the Government’s explanation – country-by-country – as to why each country included in the Government’s Priority Markets List for UK arms exports for 2014/15 is included in the List. This explanation is reproduced in full in Volume II evidence on page Ev 60.

Recommendation that the Government is more cautious in approving arms export licences

The Committees have repeated their previous Recommendation – not accepted by the Government so far – that the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression.  

Further information