New research shows over half of UK arms exports are to human rights abusers

CAAT has released a report analysing UK arms exports in 2021. The majority of UK arms exports go to human rights abusers.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has published a new report analysing military exports in 2020 and 2021.

  • The research shows that while there was an overall decline in Single Individual Export Licences (SIELs) during this timeframe, over half of the licences issued were to human rights abusing states.
  • This includes £241m to Saudi Arabia, £271m to India and £306m to Turkey.
  • The report also highlights that while there was a 12% fall in SIELs between 2021 and 2020, this doesn’t give the full picture as the figures do not include open licences which probably account for at least half of all UK arms figures.

Data from UK Defence & Security Exports provides a fuller picture of the size of the UK arms trade. This also shows a fall from £11 billion in 2019 to £7.5 billion in 2020, and £5.5 billion in 2021. Another important source of information is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s database of major conventional weapons transfers, which likewise shows a substantial fall in UK exports of such equipment, which were 41% lower over 2017-21 than in 2012-16.

Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, CAAT’s Research Coordinator, stated:

UK arms exports still lack transparency. The government provides no information on actual deliveries of arms, and data on the value of export licences excludes about half of the value of UK exports, which are covered by secretive open licences. The government could, and should, provide far more information to allow for properly informed debate on this crucial issue for international peace and security and human rights.

The government continues to licence arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite its appalling human rights record at home and its continued involvement in the war in Yemen that’s led to the death of thousands of civilians and one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.

Narendra Modi’s far-right government in India has been accused of multiple human rights abuses in Kashmir. This includes detaining Kashmiris without charge, media restrictions, credible accusations of torture, and civilian deaths.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been responsible for numerous human rights abuses at home and abroad, including the use of chemical weapons in Turkey’s attacks on Syria. In Turkey, members of the Kurdish HDP opposition party have been imprisoned, including MPs and the country has been described as the “world’s largest prison for journalists”.

Emily Apple, CAAT’s Media Coordinator stated:

While any reduction in arms sales is obviously welcome news, it is clear that this is not the full picture and that the UK government is continuing to arm human rights abusers. The weapons that the UK sells to these countries are fuelling these abuses. However, the UK government cares more about profit than saving lives or protecting fundamental human rights.

We will continue to challenge this immoral trade, and we will be taking the government to court at the end of the month to argue that its continued weapons sales to the Saudi regime are unlawful

Notes for editors:

1. The full report, UK Arms Exports in 2021, A Research Briefing can be found here.

2. More information about the human rights situation in Kashmir is available here.

3. More information about the situation Turkey is available here and here.

4. CAAT’s second Judicial Review against arms sales to Saudi Arabia will be heard at the High Court of Justice from 31 January to 2 February. More information is on CAAT’s website here.

5. For further information please contact [email protected]

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