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Report: Increase in Secret UK Arms Sales to Human Rights Violators in Middle East

The UK is using illicit export permits to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to Middle East countries with poor human rights records, according to exclusive data obtained by Middle East Eye (MEE). MEE compared data on secret UK arms sales between 2008 and 2012 with data from 2013 to 2017.

According to data assembled for MEE by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), there is a 20 percent increase in the use of secretive arms licenses to approve the sale of arms in North Africa and the Middle East. The arms shipment included acoustic riot control devices to Egypt (2015) and assault rifles to Turkey (2016).

The MEE report showed that the numbers of opaque, “open licenses” jumped from 189 to 230 from 2013 to 2017. The number of individual items sold and approved by these licenses increased to 4,305 from 1,201.

The data revealed that Turkey was granted 135 licenses including licenses for “drone and tank components, machine guns, sniper rifles, gun mounting and aircraft components, thought to be linked to a $140 million fighter jet deal signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January 2017.”


Human rights groups have raised concerns about the use of those weapons by Turkey to attack Kurdish rebel groups in the city of Afrin, Syria. The assault has displaced tens of thousands of civilians and killed hundreds more.

UK, US compete to deliver their best arms to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the U.S reached an agreement on arms sales worth US$1 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a week ago. The value included 6,700 anti-tank missiles and spare parts for tanks, helicopters and other weapons already owned by Saudi Arabia.

President Trump asked the prosperous kingdom state to share its wealth by purchasing U.S. military equipment.

“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world,” Trump said.

Just a few days before the 32-year-old prince visited the U.S, Saudi Arabia agreed to order 48 Eurofighter Typhoon war jets from the UK. The signing of “memorandum of intent” was held on the last day of Bin Salman’s Britain visit.

International human rights group Amnesty International denounced the U.S and the UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” said Lynn Maalouf, head of Middle East research at Amnesty International.

“But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars worth of such arms. As well as devastating civilian lives, this makes a mockery of the global Arms Trade Treaty.”

Facts about global arms sales: The U.S still rules the market

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global weapon sales jumped 10 percent in the last four years (2013-2017) as compared to the 2008-2012 period. The upward trend started in the early 2000s following the 9/11 attacks and the U.S-backed war on terror.

The U.S, France, Russia, China, and Germany collectively controlled 74 percent of all arms exports in that period. The U.S dominated global arms delivery between 2013 and 2017 with a 34 percent market share. The figure was 58 percent higher than Russia’s arms export.

As Middle Eastern nations are engulfed in conflict, it is no surprise that arms import in the region soared 103 percent in 2013-2017. Thirty-two percent of all arms export went to the war-torn Middle East region area in that period.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest arms importer. The country’s arms import rocketed 225 percent from 2013 to 2017 as compared to the 2008 to 2012 data. Egypt has also doubled its purchases of arms.

Why are arms purchases increasing significantly in the Middle East?

According to Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, several factors are creating an increased demand for arms purchases. Wezeman identified the key contributing factors as lack of trust between states as well as “the availability of large military budgets, a very limited ability to produce arms locally, and a willingness of more or less all foreign suppliers to sell almost any weapon to the Middle East.”

“For the Middle East the demand will remain high. The biggest factor to bring that market down is the availability of funds as oil prices have gone down so much since 2014 — most of the current high level of deliveries is on orders from the ‘fat’ years when the oil income was high,” Wezeman said.


As more tension has risen between the U.S. and its allies and Russia, China, Iran and North Korea arms sales are likely to keep growing. If the democratic process is not working and the people are not able to limit the sale or purchase of weapons by their government perhaps the only solution is for ordinary citizens to keep moving away from oil and reduce the purchasing power of oil-dependent nations.


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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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