LONDON (Reuters) - The British government should be “significantly more cautious” about approving licenses for arms exports to authoritarian regimes that may use those weapons for internal repression, a group of lawmakers said on Friday.
A report compiled by four of parliament’s select committees found Britain had more than 5 billion pounds ($7.4 billion) worth of outstanding arms export licenses 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 criticizing 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 judgments when considering arms export license applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression.”
John Stanley, chairman of the committees, said the approach of approving licenses for such countries on the basis they could later be revoked if violence occurred had led to an “unprecedented” number of licenses being revoked or suspended.
“The government should take full cognizance 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 licenses to Russia, which were criticized by the committees in their 2014 report, were still “a major issue of concern”.
While many licenses for exports to Russia, including those for sniper rifles and body armor, have been revoked in the last year, the committees said 248 licenses worth more than 168 million pounds were outstanding
They included licenses 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 criticized the government for encouraging exporters to switch to a less transparent form of license.
“This could increase the risk of breaches of the government’s arms export control policies,” the report said.
Editing by Tom Heneghan