David Cameron flew to the middle east on November 5 for a three day trip, aiming to promote British businesses. The prime minister visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to try and showcase the NHS, boost British defence exports to the area and also discuss the unrest to the region Iran is causing.

The most talked about aspect of the trip, however, was his aim to sell weapons to both countries. If successful, his trip could provide a vital boost to the UK′s economy and defence industry, which is worth 5.4 billion in annual exports.

Last year, exports to the Gulf Coast were up by 18% and the government is attempting to continue this trend. Mr Cameron is hoping to sell as many as 100 Typhoon jets during his trip, according to the Daily Telegraph, and this deal could be exactly what BAE need after their failed merger with EADS.

However, the visit has caused concern with human rights groups. Amnesty International said David Cameron shouldn′t be attempting to sell weapons to any countries with such questionable human rights. Amnesty are also doubtful that any assurance either country give to the UK is credible saying €œassurances often don′t amount to much.€ To prove how likely it is that these weapons will be used to commit human rights abuses, Amnesty highlighted the Saudi Arabian air force operations in North Yemen in 2009, where they killed hundreds/thousands of civilians. Despite calls from Amnesty International, no proper investigation took place into the events. It is likely to have been the UK supplied weaponry that were used in these attacks.

The Human Rights Watch, in their world report 2011, said how €œHuman rights conditions remain poor in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has not fulfilled several specific reform promises.€ The European parliament is also critical, releasing a resolution concerning the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates. In the resolution the European Parliament say how it €œexpresses great concern about assaults, repression and intimidation against human rights defenders, political activists and civil society actors€ and goes on to say €œthe evidence indicates that national security is the pretext for a crackdown on peaceful activism designed to stifle calls for constitutional reform and reform on human rights issues€

In the face of such evidence, detailing the lack of human rights in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates one has to wonder why the UK are still attempting to sell weapons and jets to both countries.

The gorvernment claims that it is reducing the risk of arms exports being used for human rights abuses. It is an advocate of the Arms Trade Treaty, that would ensure that no trade in weapons would be allowed if there was any risk they would be used in violations of international human rights.

Its actions belie this though. The Foreign and Commonwealth office lists Saudi Arabia as a cause for concern in its 2011 report. The UK trade & Investment website meanwhile makes no mention of human rights abuses instead mentioning how Saudi Arabia has been €œDesignated a €˜High Growth Market′ by UK Trade & Investment€

If the UK was truly committed to protecting human rights, if it was committed to creating and following an international Arms Trade Treaty as it says it is, then it would not sell weapons to countries with poor human rights and a history of using UK weapons to repress or kill citizens. Instead it seems to be focusing more on reducing unrest in the middle east and boosting its economy.


Image Courtesy : The Prime Minister’s Office