Comment & analysis

Saferworld statement on UK arms exports report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC)

19 July 2018

Saferworld welcomes the publication of the report on UK arms exports during 2016 by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC).

We note that the report includes salient criticism of several aspects of the UK’s arms transfer control system and makes a number of useful conclusions and recommendations, including about inter alia:

  • Weaknesses in how the government assesses industry compliance with the rules
  • The need for a registration system for arms brokers
  • A policy of presumption of denial for exports to certain countries of concern
  • A lack of transparency regarding arms exported under open licences and the total failure to report on any arms imports (in clear violation of its Arms Trade Treaty obligations)
  • Misrepresentation of the information provided by government on enforcement and prosecutions
  • The need for more effective end-use monitoring

We look forward to seeing the government’s response to these conclusions and recommendations.

At the same time, however, we find it incomprehensible that the CAEC has chosen not to examine the actual licensing decisions of the government for the period covered by this report (2016), or indeed more recently (data through to the end of calendar year 2017 have been available to CAEC since mid-April), at a time when the UK’s licensing practice has given more cause for concern than at any time since current legislation was adopted in 2002.

A serious review of the government’s licence decision-making is needed in a number of contexts, e.g. regarding approval for export of inter alia assault rifles, body armour, components for body armour, components for rifles, military helmets and small arms ammunition to Egypt and the Philippines, but the most obvious and serious problems are in connection with the conflict in Yemen.

Throughout 2016 and 2017 the government approved exports to parties to the Yemen conflict, most notably Saudi Arabia and UAE, of military items that have been used in bombing and blockading Yemen—described in April 2018 by the UN Secretary General as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—to the brink of famine and into the worst cholera epidemic of the modern age.

That the CAEC has not undertaken a serious examination of government policy in this regard is unconscionable, and a complete reversal of practice as followed by the CAEC in previous parliaments, where the analysis and examination of licensing decision was central to the committees’ work.  Moving forward the CAEC needs to resume its previous role, and prove to be a scrupulous and rigorous monitor of government practice.

Read more about our work on effective arms control.