LONDON – Britain has issued more than 3,000 licenses allowing the export of arms and military equipment to countries where the U.K. has concerns about human rights, according to a report from lawmakers published Wednesday.
The House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls said the combined value of the individual export licenses came to more than 12 billion pounds ($18.1 billion). It urged the government to exercise more caution in approving applications for the export of arms to countries with authoritarian regimes.
Britain's Foreign Office has a list of 27 nations where the U.K. government has wide-ranging concerns about the human rights situation, including Myanmar, China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Syria. According to the report, all but two of the 27 — North Korea and South Sudan — have valid export licenses in play. Among the countries of concern, the largest number of licenses were issued for exports to China, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
While it said many of the licenses were for items "not readily usable" for internal repression, the committees said a "surprisingly large" number of licenses were issued to exporters sending arms to countries where human rights are a concern.
The scale of the licenses "puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the government's arms exports and human rights policies," said John Stanley, chairman of the committees.
"The committees adhere to their previous recommendation that the government should apply significantly more cautious judgments when considering arms export license applications for goods to authoritarian regimes 'which might be used to facilitate internal repression' in contravention of the government's stated policy."
In response to the report, the British government stressed it takes its export responsibilities "very seriously" and that it has "one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes," under which licenses are not granted when there is deemed to be a risk that goods would be used for internal repression or to provoke or prolong conflict in the countries they are exported to.
The government added in a statement that all of the licenses highlighted in the committees' report had been "fully assessed" against a range of strident criteria to ensure goods would not be used for internal repression, to provoke or prolong conflict within a country, used aggressively against another country or risk Britain's national security.
The Committees on Arms Export Controls is made up of the House of Commons defense, foreign affairs, international development and business, innovation and skills committees.