LONDON (Reuters) - The government should be “significantly more cautious” about approving licences for arms exports to authoritarian regimes that may use those weapons for internal repression, a group of MPs said on Friday.
A report compiled by four of parliament’s select committees found Britain had more than 5 billion pounds worth of outstanding arms export licences for countries on the government’s human rights concern list.
“There is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same,” the Committees on Arms Exports Controls said in its report.
“The government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression.”
John Stanley, chairman of the committees, said the approach of approving licences for such countries on the basis they could later be revoked if violence occurred had led to an “unprecedented” number of licences being revoked or suspended.
“The government should take full cognisance of the fact that a particular regime is an authoritarian regime, it is suppressive of human rights ... and is likely to use force if necessary to protect its authority,” he said.
“If you look at human rights violations and you look at the use of force, sadly without any question over the last 12 months things have deteriorated in a pretty worrying way,” he said, citing conflicts in the Middle East and eastern Ukraine.
Stanley said arms export licences to Russia, which were criticised by the committees in their 2014 report, were still “a major issue of concern”.
While many licences for exports to Russia, including those for sniper rifles and body armour, have been revoked in the last year, the committees said 248 licences worth more than 168 million pounds were outstanding
They included licences for components for military helicopters, small arms ammunition and software for secure communications.
“We would take the view that anything that goes to the Russian government could end up being used in Ukraine,” Stanley said.
The committees also called for disclosure of the end-users of arms exports, rather than just the country they are headed to, and criticised the government for encouraging exporters to switch to a less transparent form of licence.
“This could increase the risk of breaches of the government’s arms export control policies,” the report said.
Editing by Tom Heneghan