UK: Watchdogs Call Government on Unethical Sales

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The government is allowing British arms manufacturers
to sell to some of the most dangerous and repressive
regimes in the world, two charities claim.
A dramatic rise in the sale of arms components to
these regimes undermines the government's own ethical
policies, say Oxfam and Amnesty International.

The Foreign Office says the conclusions of the
charities' report are unfounded. Foreign office minister Baroness Symons said the parts
are always assessed against stringent criteria. The government has banned weapons sales to unstable

But the charities say parts made in the UK are
reaching countries like Zimbabwe, Israel, Indonesia,
Uganda, Colombia, Nepal and the Philippines, even
though the sale of complete weapons systems to these
countries is banned.

Once abroad the components, ranging from gun barrels
to guidance systems, could easily assembled into
completed systems by regimes involved in military
conflicts and abuses of human rights, said the report.

"We are concerned that weaker standards of licensing
of these items, especially given their increased
prominence in the export market, create a dangerous
new loophole that will allow UK-provided arms
components to contribute to suffering around the
world," it stated.

It accused the government of putting the interests of
the defence industry ahead of concerns about human
rights abuses.

There was particular concern about small arms, with
the number of licences issued for the export of
assault rifle components alone rising from 10 in 1998
to 41 in 2002, including 23 "open" licences which
allow multiple shipments.

Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth said the
government was putting lives at risk by setting up
"false and dangerous double standards".

"These aren't simply nuts and bolts we're selling," he

"These components include firing mechanisms, bomb
making equipment, guidance systems and gun barrels.

"Whether a machine gun comes in pieces or ready made,
the suffering it can cause in the wrong hands is just
the same."

Baroness Symons said it was simply not the case" that
the government was allowing arms to be sold through a

"We take full account of what the components might be
used for...We simply would not issue a licence where
there was an unacceptable risk of it being misused or
diverted," she said.

AMP Section Name:Human Rights