The British government has revoked more than 150 arms licenses to African and Middle Eastern countries facing uprisings.
The British government ordered a review of arms sales after being criticised for issuing licenses allowing the supply of crowd control ammunition and chemical agents (such as tear gas) to Bahrain and Libya, which may have used them against protestors.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Bahrain and the events which have led to the deaths of several protesters,” Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said in a statement announcing the decision to revoke arms export licences, Reuters reports. Although the Foreign Office had no evidence that British weapons were used against protestors in Bahrain, the government refused to issue licenses when there were risks the exports “might be used to facilitate internal repression”. However, The Guardian said the licences approved included exactly the kind of weapons and ammunition used by Bahraini riot police to clear the Pearl Roundabout protest encampment, such as shotguns, teargas and stun grenades.
Exports recently cleared for Bahrain include more than 100 assault rifles, 50 submachine guns, tear gas, stun grenades and detonators, according to The Guardian. The UK government has approved the sale to Libya of a wide range of weapons, including teargas, crowd control ammunition and sniper rifles. According to figures compiled by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, export licenses to Bahrain increased dramatically in the first nine months of last year and amounted to more than two million pounds for this period.
On February 18 Britain revoked more than 50 arms export licenses for Bahrain and Libya. The British government took the decision to revoke 24 individual licenses and 20 open licenses for the Gulf state. Individual licenses allow a single arms sale while open licenses cover multiple sales to a number of destinations. The UK also revoked eight individual licenses for Libya and continued a review of exporting licenses for the wider region.
In a written parliamentary reply earlier this month, Business Minister Mark Prisk revealed that 44 licenses for Egypt had been cancelled or removed while two licenses for Tunisia were removed at the end of January.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has been asking for an immediate ban on all weapons sales to the Middle East and Northern African countries. European Union and UK arms trade guidelines say arms sales should be halted if the weapons will be used for internal repression.
Prisk, in a separate reply, revealed that Bahrain, Libya and Egypt had in recent years sent official delegations to three major British defence and security exhibitions and were involved in defence demonstrations, trainings and conferences in the UK.
“In the light of the rapidly changing events in Libya and north Africa, we acted to revoke licences where there was a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression or human rights abuses,” Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green said during a debate on Arab arms sales in the House of Lords earlier this month.
Many African and Middle Eastern countries have received arms licenses over the last year, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including Algeria (5), Bahrain (45), Egypt (31), Iraq (31), Israel (91), Jordan (51), Kuwait (38), Lebanon (5), Libya (25), Morocco (18), Oman (122), Qatar (22), Saudi Arabia (98), Syria (1), Tunisia (10), the United Arab Emirates (152) and Yemen (4).