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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK

UK Politics

Amnesty audit criticises arms exports

Exports to Indonesia have come in for criticism

An annual report by Amnesty International has criticised arms exports from the UK to countries with poor human rights records as damaging its ethical foreign policy.

The annual audit by the human rights group said decisions by the Department of Trade and Industry on arms exports to certain regimes had undermined "foreign policy with an ethical dimension".

East Timor
The report accepted there had been a "genuine and active commitment to human rights in a number of areas" by the government since coming to power.

But the report condemned the export of arms and security equipment "to countries where there are serious human rights violations".

In its first year in office the government approved 64 export licences to Indonesia alongside others for India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Turkey, the report said.

'Delay and inefficiency'

Author Mark Lattimer said: "The role of the DTI as lead department for arms exports has been characterised by delay and inefficiency in implementing the human rights concerns that are central to the government's stated policy.

[ image: The report applauded the decision on General Pinochet]
The report applauded the decision on General Pinochet
"A new regime to control arms exports, as recommended by the Scott Report more than three years ago, is now urgently required to stop the government's efforts to promote human rights abroad being seriously damaged by its trade policy."

The audit is Amnesty International's second annual review of the UK's ethical foreign policy.

The report praised the government for taking a strategic approach to building overseas support for human rights and the increased number of civil servants devoted to promoting human rights.

It also highlighted how cash funding and diplomatic input had been used in areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bosnia.

The decision by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to allow extradition proceedings against Chile's former leader General Augusto Pinochet to go ahead was also singled out in the report.

The report also said the government had failed to live up to its promises of greater transparency on export policy.

The first annual report on export controls published six months ago was "dated and failed to provide convincing reassurances that UK exports were not being used to commit human rights violations abroad", the audit said.

Criticism rejected

In response, the Department of Trade said it rejected the assertions made by the report.

[ image: Robin Cook: Foreign Office negotiates with Amnesty International]
Robin Cook: Foreign Office negotiates with Amnesty International
It said it did take the human rights records of customers into account but conceded there should be a new regime in place to control the licencing of arms and that legislation was pending. A Foreign Office spokesman added that the "robust defence of human rights" was central to the government's foreign policy.

The spokesman said: "We value an ongoing dialogue with Amnesty International and other organisations on this issue.

"This government has a good record in promoting human rights around the world.

"Since the current government came to office we have, as the Kosovo conflict showed, put the robust defence of human rights at the heart of British policy and moved human rights right up the foreign policy and international agenda."

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