Running with the hare, hunting with the hounds
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has recently shared with the Observer some research it has done into the record level of arms sales to countries with dubious human rights records (Britain sells record £3bn of weapons in a year to regimes that violate human rights, 29 May 2016). We have over recent months posted several blogs concerning these arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and also the involvement of British Service personnel in the bombing of civilians in Yemen.
We have also highlighted the government’s steady watering down of its human rights policies to enable more arms sales to take place. The CAAT’s statistics show that more than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 ‘human rights priority countries’ that is countries where the worst of the human rights violations take place.
Countries such as Saudi and Bahrain are familiar to us but less attention has been paid to the Maldives which does have a Salisbury connection. The first elected leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheen (pictured) – who went to school in the city – has been sentenced to 13 years in prison allegedly for terrorist offences. Amnesty has said the sentence was ‘politically motivated’. It released a report in February which said that the government had been:
effectively undermining human rights protection by failing to strengthen the independent institutions of the state.
A local NGO, Transparency Maldives, issued a statement expressing concern about ‘irregularities’ in the legal process.
The MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen has also been busy making speeches, writing in the Salisbury Journal and on his blog about the situation there. He says that Nasheed’s sentence was ‘illegal’ (Time to promote freedom in the Maldives, 17 May 2016). He goes on to say:
Last year, Nasheed was put on trial on politically-motivated and completely false charges of “terrorism”, found guilty and sentenced for 13 years. In the course of his trial Nasheed was prohibited from presenting any evidence or calling witnesses, with the court pre-emptively concluding that no testimony could refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution.
Another 1,700 people face criminal charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared. Attacks on the Maldives’ independent press have intensified in recent weeks to the extent that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, has been prohibited by court order from publishing its daily print edition.
He concludes his blog by arguing that pressure should be applied to the Maldivian government:
Pressure must be increasingly and continually applied to compel the Maldives Government to release its political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. I hope that CMAG [Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] will be able to greatly improve the situation but if not we should not be afraid to countenance targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on the leadership of the Maldivian Government.
All this is commendable and it is good to see an MP arguing forcefully for human rights in a place such as the Maldives. The problem however is the arms sales. As the Observer article makes clear, quoting Andrew Smith of CAAT ‘These arms sales are going to countries that even the Foreign Office accepts are run by some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.’
So while we may praise Mr Glen for raising this matter in Parliament and in the Journal and on his blog, the fact remains that the department granting these licenses is the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in which Mr Glen is the PPS to the Minister. The Ministry simply says that the department
The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export controls regimes in the world.
Some may argue that Mr Glen’s position is inconsistent: making speeches about human rights violations in the Maldives while working for a department which is busy allowing the sale of arms to them. Others may choose to use a harsher word.