MPs accuse Government of failing to investigate claims that British arms used to violate human rights in Indonesia

Campaign Against Arms Trade and TAPOL (Indonesian Human Rights Campaign)

A committee of MPs has accused the Government of failing to investigate claims that British-built military equipment has been used in violation of human rights or for offensive purposes in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

The Quadripartite Committee on Strategic Exports, in its Annual Report for 2002 published today, also questions the value of assurances provided by Indonesia about the end use of British-supplied equipment and strongly criticises the Government for its lack of transparency in explaining why it allowed Indonesia to weaken the assurances at a time when it was continuing to conduct offensive operations in Aceh.

The Committee’s inquiry into the use of British military equipment in Aceh was prompted in part by evidence provided by TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign and Campaign Against Arms Trade. Speaking on behalf of the two organisations, Paul Barber said:

We welcome this report which reflects widespread parliamentary and public disquiet about the sale of weapons to a country with an appalling human rights record. The Committee has rightly exposed the Government’s lamentable lack of concern about the end use of British equipment in Indonesia and the ineffectiveness of its monitoring procedures.

There are grave risks that equipment will be used against innocent civilians in Aceh and elsewhere in Indonesia and we repeat our longstanding call for the Government to introduce an immediate embargo on the supply of British military equipment to Indonesia.

UK-supplied Hawk jets, Scorpion tanks and Saracen and Stormer armoured personnel carriers have been used in Indonesia’s year-long martial offensive in Aceh, which has claimed at least 2,000 lives since it was imposed on 19 May 2003. Although martial law is due to be lifted tomorrow, military operations will continue with the risk that British equipment will be used to violate human rights.

The Committee says it has seen no evidence that the Government has taken any action (other than talking to the Indonesian authorities) to investigate claims that British built equipment has been used in violation of human rights or offensively in Aceh. This calls into question the importance of such assurances in the eyes of the Government (para. 97).

The Committee refers specifically to a press report cited by TAPOL and CAAT about the showing on Indonesian television of heavy machine guns mounted on Scorpion tanks firing at alleged separatist positions. The Committee states that it was not presented with any evidence that the Government examined the TV footage and calls on the Government to explain what steps it has taken in that regard.

In September 2002, the Government controversially allowed Indonesia to weaken the conditions under which licences to Indonesia were granted, allowing British equipment to be used in Aceh at a time when the human rights situation was deteriorating. Previously, the use of British equipment in Aceh was not permitted under any circumstances unless advance notification was provided to the British Government. However, neither the Committee nor anyone else in Parliament were made aware of the change of policy until June 2003. The Government has failed to explain the reason for the change of policy.

The Committee is forced to conclude that there has been a serious lack of clarity in the Government’s explanation to us of its rationale for allowing the Indonesian authorities to alter end-use undertakings regarding their use of British-built military equipment. (para. 86)

Reflecting the views of TAPOL and CAAT that in any event the undertakings are worthless, the Committee goes on to say that without more legal or political backbone, end-use assurances are not worth the paper they are written on (para. 99)

The Committee further expresses the suspicion that the principal function of the end-use assurances is to shield the exporting Government from criticism when exporting equipment is misused (para 100).

The British Government under Tony Blair has continued to license the sale of lethal equipment to the Indonesian military despite the repeated use by the Indonesian army of British-supplied equipment against civilians in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and other areas. Since 1997, when Labour came to power, the UK has delivered over £375 million worth of military equipment to Indonesia. Recently the financial value of military licences for Indonesia leapt from £2 million in 2000 to £41 million in 2002.


For further information please contact CAAT on 020 7281 0297.

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