Arms exports policy 'was misjudged'
Ministers have been accused by MPs of misjudging the risk that British arms exports to countries such as Libya and Bahrain would be used to suppress their own people.
The Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls disclosed that as recently as last year, UK firms were given licences to sell equipment ranging from small arms and tear gas canisters to armoured personnel carriers to countries in the region.
While they welcomed the revocation of 156 export licences to Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia since the recent uprising, they said the Government still needed to reconcile its wish to promote arms sales with its duty to uphold human rights.
In its report, the committee listed details of some of the most recent export licences granted for sales to countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
Last year alone, approval was given for the export to Libya of small arms ammunition, crowd control ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition and technology for the use of infrared and thermal imaging equipment.
For Bahrain, licences were issued covering sub-machine guns, sniper rifles, CS hand grenades, smoke canisters, stun grenades, and tear gas and riot control agents.
Body armour and night vision goggles have been approved for Yemen, small arms ammunition for Syria, and sniper rifles, aircraft components and armoured personnel carriers for Saudi Arabia.
The report said that the Government's review on the issuing of licences for countries in the region should now be extended to cover all authoritarian regimes around the world.
"We conclude that both the present Government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression," it said.
"We also recommend that the Government sets out how it intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights."