The British government has been accused of using its soldiers to demonstrate and promote weapon sales to Persian Gulf Arab kingdoms amid their continued involvement in the Saudi-led military aggression in Yemen that has left thousands of civilian casualties.
UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) is now facing new calls to reveal specifics of its use of British troops to sell armaments to foreign governments after it prohibited the publication of the names of countries that sent delegations to observe British military servicemen carrying out demonstrations for weapons manufacturers, UK-based daily The Guardian reported Saturday.
DIT has arranged a major increase in weapon sales to Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, despite widespread reports of atrocities and human rights violations in its war campaign against neighboring Yemen.
This is while the government agency claimed that identifying the delegations would “prejudice the relationship between the UK and other states” and might lead to break in diplomatic ties.
A freedom of information request has found that British forces, furnished by DIT’s so-called export support team (EST) was used on 10 occasions this year to conduct military demonstrations at various locations.
They included demonstrations of Firestorm targeting systems – used by the Saudi-led coalition forces involved in the aerial bombing campaign against Yemen – outside the garrison town of Larkhill for the arms company Rockwell Collins.
In most other cases, details of the weapon maker and potential overseas buyer were blocked.
“This is another example of the government trying to avoid proper scrutiny of arms sales,” said Labour Party’s Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner.
Gardiner added that, “British taxpayers do not expect public money to be spent prepping arms sales to regimes whose identity the government is too embarrassed to reveal. It is profoundly depressing to find the secretary of state clearly so keen to prop up slumping trade figures by pushing arms sales that he doesn’t want anybody to find out about.”
“It is concerning that the government has redacted so much in this freedom of information request, and raises questions on whether some countries may be facing allegations of human rights abuses,” he further emphasized.
Meanwhile, the UK-based anti-poverty organization Oxfam — which is also campaigning against the use of British weapons in Yemen — stated that the secrecy around the EST’s promotion of UK arms sales was quite concerning and raised questions about what the government may be hiding.
“Some of the equipment listed here is in service with the United Arab Emirates, and may be used by the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen,” said Oxfam Policy Adviser Martin Butcher. “We know that the UK is fueling the war in Yemen with arms sales in excess of £3.8bn to Saudi Arabia for its bombing campaign. The people of Yemen are in the grip of the world’s largest cholera epidemic since records began. Seven million people are just a step away from famine – and homes, hospitals and schools have been destroyed by the bombing and fighting.”
The report also quoted a DIT spokesperson as saying that the British government “undertakes a stringent process of scrutiny and approval before issuing any formal invitations to foreign governments to attend UK defense exhibitions,” claiming that “respect for human rights is a mandatory consideration.”