British weapons sales to Sri Lanka

The British government is granting export licences for military and dual-use items to countries on its own official list of human rights abuses. The declared licences are worth £12.3bn, according to the Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), a parliamentary group. More than 3,000 licences have been issued to countries such as Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

The list also includes Sri Lanka, whose regime presided over the mass killing of around 100,000 Tamil civilians in 2009 in its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is implementing brutal repression, with militarised zones in the north and east, settlements and the seizure of Tamil land, alongside a clampdown on workers’ and democratic rights throughout the island.

It shows the complete hypocrisy of Britain’s Con-Dem coalition, to quote the CAEC report, ‘… for countries listed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as being of human rights concern, such as Libya and Saudi Arabia, then to be listed by the UK Trade and Investment Organisation within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as priority markets for arms exports.’ (Financial Times, 17 July)

The report says that the government carries out only minimal, sometimes no, checks on those it grants licences to.

The regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, defence secretary Gotabaya, has been granted 49 licences worth £8m. Sir John Stanley, chairman of the CAEC, said: ‘… 600 assault rifles were sold to Sri Lanka, despite the very well documented cases of human rights abuse there. We have to ask the government why this is the case.’ (The Independent, 17 July)

Sir John might well ask, but he won’t get a straight answer. The fact is that money talks and big-business profits count more than the lives of working-class and poor people.

The government says that it does not issue export licences for goods ‘which might be used to facilitate internal repression’. Do these politicians think we are stupid? Do they think we do not know what assault rifles are and what they can be used for?

Not only is prime minister David Cameron happy to sell weapons to repressive regimes around the world, but in November he will happily shake hands with Rajapaksa at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.

As far as Cameron is concerned it’s business as usual – and he won’t let the massacres, land-grab or repression get in the way.


Manny Thain