The Independent yesterday commented on the hypocrisy of UK foreign policy; calling it out on supplying arms to 22 of the 30 “human rights priority” countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) list.
Boris Johnson was among numerous British politicians condemning Venezuela for putting basic rights and democracy in jeopardy, a reason why the state has been on the FCO list for two years.
Despite this, Venezuela has received military equipment worth over £1.4m since 2010; the same year the Conservatives came into power. Yet this is not an outlier – the UK has had similar concerns about the state of human rights in 29 other countries while still continuing to supply arms to 22 of them. In the past two years, this has amounted to close to £4.1bn.
Most shockingly, the list of recipients includes those in a current state of conflict, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Research from Amnesty International indicated that the arms initially sold to the Iraqi government have now been seized by ISIL, reinstating the fact the control over arms in a war zone is extremely limited.
Furthermore, the Independent suggested that not only does supplying arms provide military support; it also indicates approval, political support, and trust. The results of this mix are lethal – an example being the UK-made bombs currently being dropped on Yemen by UK-made fighter jets flown by the Saudi Arabian military. This has resulted in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
Recent figures have shown that the Yemeni conflict has resulted in more than 10,000 fatalities. More have died as a result of other factors such as lack of medical help and the collapse of infrastructure. Regardless of this, Saudi Arabia is the largest purchaser of UK arms; spending more than £3.8bn since the intervention began.
The Independent recommended that the UK arms export criteria include stopping the sale of arms to states suspected of intending to use them for serious violations of humanitarian law, before demanding that the UK government cease being a participant in the global arms trade.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this will occur while the Defence and Security Organisation persists. With one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), beginning next month this does not appear a possibility in the foreseeable future; especially when the Secretary for International Trade and the Defence Secretary will be there to welcome and address delegates.
It begs the question; if the UK government had genuine concerns for the promotion of human rights and democracy, why must they continue arming human rights abusers?