The Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) have scrutinised in unprecedented detail the Government’s latest (2010) Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls, the Government’s quarterly information on individual export licence approvals and refusals, and the Government’s policies and performance on arms export controls and on arms control generally.
The Committees conclude that the Government's review of its policies and practices on arms exports following the Arab Spring should not have been carried out merely as "an internal review" and should instead have been the subject of public consultation in accordance with the Government's stated policy of transparency on arms exports. The Committees further conclude that whilst the Government’s introduction of a new licence suspension mechanism is welcome, this is not sufficient to ensure that arms exported from the UK are not used for internal repression overseas because in many, if not most, cases the arms will have left the UK before suspension occurs.
The Chairman of the Committees, Sir John Stanley said:
"This is a ground breaking Report in the depth and detail of the Committees on Arms Export Controls' scrutiny of the Government’s policies on arms exports.
The Foreign Secretary in his Oral evidence to the Committee confirmed that the British Government's policy on arms exports and internal repression was as follows:
The long-standing British position is clear: We will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression."
Given this policy statement and the fact that the Government since the Arab Spring has had to revoke an unprecedented number of 158 existing arms export licences to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the Committees have recommended in their unanimous Report that the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used to facilitate internal repression.
The Committees have also once again recommended that the Government extends its arms export policy review from countries in the Middle East and North Africa to authoritarian regimes and countries of human rights concern worldwide. The Committees have published for the first time in Annex 7 of their Report selected arms export licence approvals by the Government to countries of human rights concern, as listed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, of arms or components of arms which might be used to facilitate internal repression.
The Committees have also published in their Report for the first time details of the extant UK Government approved arms export licences to Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.