A recent report has revealed that the United Kingdom is using secretive licenses to hide the scale of its arms exports to countries with dire human rights records in the Middle East.
The Middle East Eye online news portal said figures compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) showed that the use of opaque “open licenses” to approve arms sales to states in the Middle East and North Africa by the UK government has increased by 22 percent.
According to the report, Britain has used the secretive export rules to avoid public scrutiny and hide the value of arms and their quantities.
Arms exports are worth $8.3 billion a year to the UK economy.
The MEE said defense firms have used standard open licenses to approve arms sales to the Middle East, valued at more than $4.2 billion since pledges were made by senior ministers to increase UK arms exports after the Brexit vote in June 2016.
The figures showed that the number of open arms export licenses increased from 189 to 230 from 2013 to 2017, while the number of individual items approved under these licensees rose to 4,315 from 1,201.
Saudi Arabia is by far the largest buyer of UK arms under the opaque open licensing system.
Last month, the online news portal revealed an increase of 75 percent in the use of approvals for arms exports, including vital parts for warplanes used in the Saudi aggression on Yemen.
About 14,000 people have been killed since the onset of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen in March 2015. Much of the Arabian Peninsula country’s infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.
Campaigners further said Britain used open licenses to approve arms sales to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria and Iraq.
The report said the UK used the secretive open licenses to export assault rifles to Turkey in 2016 as Ankara intensified its crackdown, as well as acoustic riot control devices to Egypt in 2015.
CAAT voiced concerns over the rise in the use of open licenses, which are difficult to track and not subject to public scrutiny or parliamentary oversight.
“The increase in open licenses should concern everybody. It tells us that the government wants to make a shady industry even more closed and secretive,” said Andrew Smith, spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade.
“UK arms are doing terrible damage in Yemen, so it’s more important than ever that parliament and civil society are given as much information as possible so that the government can be held to account,” he added.
Fabian Hamilton, Labor’s shadow minister for peace, said, “The increases in arms exports to countries with questionable human rights records in the Middle East and North Africa must be urgently reviewed. Britain must lead by example, and confront human rights abuses head on.”
“Current government policy on this is fundamentally contradictory,” Hamilton added.