Two-thirds of countries classified as ‘not free’ because of their dire record on human rights and civil liberties have received weapons licensed by the UK government over the past decade, new analysis reveals.
Between 2011-2020, the UK licensed £16.8bn of arms to countries criticised by Freedom House, a US government-funded human rights group.
Of the 53 countries castigated for a poor record on political and human rights on the group’s list, the UK sold arms and military equipment to 39.
Noteworthy recipients include Libya, which received £9.3m of assault rifles, military vehicle components and ammunition.
Last week, it was the focus of international peace talks to stabilise a country where armed groups and foreign powers compete for influence.
Further analysis by the London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found that £11.8bn of arms had been authorised by the UK government during the same period to the Foreign Office’s own list of “human rights priority countries”. Two-thirds of the countries – 21 out of 30 – on the UK government list of repressive regimes had received UK military equipment.
The Department for International Trade has also identified nine nations as “core markets” for arms exports that groups say are guilty of many human rights abuses, including Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Turkey.
The UK government has already admitted that a Saudi-led coalition has attacked Yemen using weapons made by British companies. The UK supplied more than half of the combat aircraft used by the Middle East kingdom for its bombing raids.
“Right now, UK-made weapons are playing a devastating role in Yemen and around the world. The arms sales that are being pushed today could be used in atrocities and abuses for years to come,” said Andrew Smith of the CAAT.
Further arms deals are expected in the near future with many of the countries on the Freedom House list.
“Wherever there is oppression and conflict there will always be arms companies trying to profit from it, and complicit governments helping them to do so,” said Smith.
“Many of these sales are going to despots, dictatorships and human rights-abusing regimes. They haven’t happened by accident. None of these arms sales would have been possible without the direct support of Boris Johnson and his colleagues,” added Smith.
Russia was also among the beneficiaries of UK arms sales – in the last decade, it received £44m of UK arms including ammunition, sniper rifle components and gun silencers, analysis shows. Moscow last week claimed it had chased a British destroyer out of Crimean waters with warning shots and bombs.
The sales to Russia and Libya were, however, made before ongoing arms embargoes to both countries were introduced, a situation that critics say highlights the short-term thinking behind most arms sales.