Posts Tagged ‘Arms’


The DSEI arms fair starts in London

This bi-annual event held in London receives a considerable amount of opposition and is a place for protest against the arms trade.  The description of the event by the organisers is blandness itself:

World leading event that brings together the global defence and security sectors to innovate and share knowledge.

It paints a picture of people coming together in some kind of seminar format to discuss defence issues as though it is a think-tank.  The reality is a little different as it is a place where all kinds of weapons manufacturers can display and secure deals to a wide range of countries who come to visit.  If it is as benign as the description implies one has to ask why organisations like Amnesty are denied access?  The purpose is to sell arms and to quote the organising company:

It’s a model that works well in the Middle East…There’s a lot of money being spent here in the UAE on homeland security technology, so it’s a good market in which to roll out our brand

Among the invitees are countries with highly dubious and questionable human rights records.  These include according to the guest list: Brunei, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.  If we look at Bahrain in particular, a recent Amnesty report on the country published earlier this year concluded, inter alia:

Since June 2016, the Bahraini authorities have dramatically stepped up their crackdown on dissent. As a result, by June 2017, Bahrain’s formerly thriving civil society had found itself reduced to a few lone voices brave enough to speak out.  The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risk of doing so has become too high. Over the course of a year, the authorities increasingly resorted to a wide range of repressive tactics including arrest, harassment, threats, prosecution and imprisonment to silence peaceful critics.  Amnesty International’s research concludes that the security forces have even resorted to torturing or otherwise ill-treating human rights defenders, both men and women, a practice that has not been prevalent in Bahrain since the height of the crackdown that followed the 2011 uprising.

The report went onto to describe how Bahrain has backtracked on reform and noted that in the period June 2016 to June 2017, 169 critics or relatives have been arrested, summonsed, interrogated, prosecuted, imprisoned, banned from travel or threatened.  Freedom of expression is increasingly criminalised and the opposition party has in effect been dismantled.  The report was compiled after a large number of interviews were carried out including with 52 victims, 58 journalists, lawyers and others, and the investigation of 210 cases.

The British government has worked hard to promote our interests with Bahrain and a Daily Mail article in 2016 detailed the many links from the Queen down through the rest of the Royal Family.  Theresa May visited recently.

As far as the Arms fair DSEI itself is concerned, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade which is helping to coordinate protests said:

DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.  Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in?  War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI.  It’s time to shut it down for good

DSEI was formerly part of the UK Trade and Industry Department but has now been moved to the newly formed Department for International Trade the minister of which is Liam Fox.

In an interview on the BBC today (11 September) Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, said “[the UK] sells too many arms to countries which abuse human rights.”

The guest list shows several firms with a Salisbury link who are exhibiting at this fair.  They include Babcock, Chemring’s, QinetiQ and Cubic.

The government has got itself into something of a fix over the question of arms sales.  Whilst claiming to have a strict code and robust procedures, the sale of arms to questionable regimes has increased.  Thousands of jobs now depend on this industry and with future problems likely to arise connected with our withdrawal from the EU, from an economic viewpoint we can ill afford to reduce sales of weapons.  It is thus on a treadmill requiring it to support the sale of weapons to a range of unsavoury regimes who in turn use these weapons to intimidate their own people or to cause suffering of neighbouring countries such as the bombing of Yemen by the Saudis.  It is also important to bear in mind that it is not just weapons that are involved but also security equipment.  Autocratic regimes are keen to keep tabs on their citizens and need all the techniques of surveillance to do so.  This kind of equipment, although not lethal of itself, does enable individuals to be monitored, watched and harassed.

The position is indefensible and some of the arguments echo those used by the slave trade in the nineteenth century where large numbers of jobs were involved in its continuation.


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MSF in Yemen

Posted: July 30, 2017 in arms trade, Yemen
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A doctor working for Médicins sans Frontières shares her experiences of working in Yemen

Hella Hultin is a Swedish surgeon who is working for MSF in Yemen.  In the current issue, she writes of her experiences of working in Khameeer in northern Yemen.

We were about to do an appendectomy on a girl, but my Yemeni colleague thought I might be tired after the long journey.  So I sat in the operating room to watch.  Suddenly both our phones rang.  The voice on the other end was stressed asking me to come straight to the emergency room.

“Help! How do I get there?” I thought, while I quickly put on a white coat and hurried out, so fast the cats outside scattered in all directions.  “Emergency?” I asked the attendant outside, and was pointed in the right direction.

When I arrived, the Emergency room was full of people, both patients and relatives.  Many patients were being rolled in on stretchers from the ambulance entrance.  I was told there had been an airstrike and more injured would be arriving soon.  The injured were all covered in dust and dirt, and almost all had wounds from shrapnel.  Several had fractures of the arms or legs, and some had burns on their face and hands.

A desperate husband was running around the room screaming.  When I managed to get the interpreter to translate what he was saying, it turned out he was missing two of his children who had been caught up in the strike.  It’s not hard to imagine his anxiety.

We got to work and ended up operating all night.  We transferred two of the most seriously injured to a larger hospital for specialist treatment that we were unable to provide.

Hours later I made it to bed.  As I lay down, it felt like I’d been there for weeks.

We do not know from this account the nature of the airstrike but there is no suggestion that those injured are military personnel.  Accounts from people working inside Yemen are scarce as the Saudi’s have blockaded the country.  Only a few journalists have managed to get in and there was a radio report last week of BBC’s Radio 4 news (limited time podcast).

We cannot tie this account to a strike using British weapons but we are a major supplier of materiel to the regimeThe High Court recently absolved the UK government in a case brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.


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The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law.  The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.

We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country.  These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate.  10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis.  CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.

Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:

The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.

It further concluded:

Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern.  There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.

A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.

If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.

An Amnesty International spokesman said:

The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes.  This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations.  James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)

It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision.  True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know.  But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts.  And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country.  A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.

Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far.  They are the tail that wags the dog.

Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country.  We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.


Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN

 

 

 

 


We are pleased to attach the minutes of the December meeting thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.

December minutes


Damning criticism of government’s blind eye to arms sales to the Saudi Arabians
Recommends suspension of arms sales to the Saudis

Picture: mintpressnews.com

Followers of this blog will be aware of the attention we have been drawing to the war in Yemen and our government’s role in it.  It started by accident with a letter to our MP Mr John Glen who forwarded a bland reply from a Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  The answers began to unravel quite quickly when it was revealed that, for example, far from reigning in the Saudi’s, we were promoting their membership of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Now the International Development and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committees have produced a lengthy report which is extremely critical on several different levels.  The chair’s summary remarks were:

The UK led the way in establishing international humanitarian law to govern the sale of arms. The conflict in Yemen has raised serious concerns that we are not showing equal determination in ensuring that these are respected.

During this inquiry we have heard evidence from respected sources that weapons made in the UK have been used in contravention of International Humanitarian Law.  The Government can no longer wait and see and must now take urgent action, halting the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition until we can be sure that there is no risk of violation.

We call on the Government to continue the UK’s long-standing commitment to IHL and lead the international community in establishing a strong, independent inquiry. The circumstances surrounding incidents in Yemen, such as allegations of the use of cluster bombs, must be firmly established and send a clear message to all combatants in Yemen that human rights must be respected.

The current system for overseeing the sale of arms must be improved.  At present we do not have sufficient transparency to hold licensing decisions to account or the confidence that the benchmarks ensuring human rights law is respected are high enough. This must be addressed immediately.

Backbench committees do valuable and largely unsung work in the House of Commons and provide an opportunity for members to question government activities more closely than they are able to do in the House itself.

Background

The background situation in the Yemen is dire.  The UN categorises it as a level 3 crisis which is the most severe.  UNICEF say that 1,211 children have been killed and 1,650 injured, both are likely to be under-estimates in view of the difficulty in reporting.  The economy and health care systems are on the verge of collapse.  Over a million people are internally displaced.

Britain however continues to profit from the war by supplying huge amounts of weaponry to the Saudis.  Between April and December 2015 we supplied £1.7bn worth of aircraft and a further £1bn of air-Image result for cluster weaponsdelivered bombs.  More shockingly is that, although we are no longer supplying cluster munitions, previously supplied ones have turned up on the ground.  These weapons kick out tens or hundreds of sub-munitions which saturate an area the size of several football fields.  Duds can be dangerous to children especially who can lose limbs or be blinded if they pick them up.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have provided evidence to the FCO about the use of these weapons.

The report

The report makes interesting reading most particularly concerning the UK government attitudes to the conflict.  It contrasts the FCO’s attitude to the documented evidence it is presented with on the Yemen by NGOs including Amnesty and HRW, which it ignores, with that from Syria where evidence is accepted.  David Mepham, the UK director of HRW said in evidence:

I was at a meeting with [the Foreign Secretary] several months ago when I gave him copies of our report and said, “These are the GPS coordinates; these are the strikes; these are the markets and schools that were hit.” Therefore, he has that evidence. The Foreign Office has had that evidence for months. It is extraordinary that the line comes back that they do not have evidence, when that evidence has been shared with them for a considerable period of time.

Picture: the Independent

The line from the government is that the UK has ‘the most robust arms control export regimes in the world’.  The committee heard evidence of how long this robust arms control regime took to make its decisions: a matter of days.  The hundreds of licences take around 20 or 25 days to approve.  In comparison with other government decision making, this is merely the blink of an eye.  It seems fairly obvious that little control is exercised.  No licence has been refused.

In the face of the hundreds of incidents of schools, marriage ceremonies, factories and hospitals being hit by bombing, the UK government accepts the answers given it by the Saudi government.  The committee was sceptical at FCO reliance on Saudi assurances and said:

We are not convinced that Saudi Arabia is best placed to investigate reports of IHL breaches and their lack of progress with reporting findings only confirms our concerns that they are obstructing progress.  Of 185 incidents reported by UN, HRW and AI, only 9 investigations have taken place

UK personnel

Our involvement is not just limited to supplying weapons but military and civilian personnel are also involved in the control centre and elsewhere.  The claim is that they are not directing the actual bombing.  The committee were not convinced by this argument.

It is impossible, on the basis of the evidence that is before us to claim plausibly that the United Kingdom is not involved.  We provide the aircraft and the bombs.  This level of involvement without being party to a conflict is unprecedented.  This is an area where there is much confusion and greater clarity is needed.  (para 75)

Human Rights

The committee considered our political role in this conflict and our supposed commitment to an international rules based order.  We were now in a tricky position.  UK’s support for the Saudi led coalition primarily through the sale of arms and in the face of violations of International Humanitarian Law is inconsistent with our global leadership role in the world.  The very rules the UK championed – represented by the Arms Trade Treaty – are at risk of unravelling.

The committee heard evidence that the arms companies were a huge source of employment and that if we did not supply the weapons, others would.  An argument which could easily be applied to slavery.

Summary

For the sake of weapons sales, the government has become ensnared with a war which is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster.  Our involvement is much to close for comfort and attempts to dissemble and hide the truth are at risk of unravelling.  We also risk losing the moral argument as well.  It is difficult for us to criticise the Russians and Syrians for their barbaric activities in Aleppo and elsewhere, when we are only slightly removed from doing the same things in Yemen.  So far the government has been lucky: all eyes are on Syria and there are few reports emerging from Yemen.  But this report is a welcome spotlight on the unsavoury and ultimately foolish activities by our government in that country.  They recommend ending arms sales to the Saudis.

On 26 October the House of Commons debated the question of withdrawing support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.  The intention was to send a message to the government that MP’s do not want to support a war without a UN investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law.  Labour MPs did not attend and the vote was lost.  Mr Glen voted against the motion.  So the carnage continues.

The full report


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Yemen

Posted: September 30, 2016 in Yemen
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Programme on Channel 4 about the war in Yemen.

Those who watched this programme will have been horrified at the destruction which has taken place in this country.  It looked as though no part has escaped bombing.  Tens of thousands living in camps in desperate circumstances.  But perhaps the most chilling was the impact it is having on children and babies with scenes of malnutrition in understaffed and under resourced hospitals.  The blockade meant that food supplies sat out in the Red Sea for so long that it was already unusable by the time it was eventually landed the programme showed.

The programme brought out well our role in this war by supplying weapons and military personnel to assist the Saudis in their campaign.  We have also helped the Saudis on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

It is truly shaming that this is happening and our (the UK) and the United State’s role in supplying the wherewithal and the political cover for the devastating campaign.  While most of the media’s attention is on (quite rightly) the terrible events in Syria, until now too little attention has been paid to this forgotten war and our dreadful role in it.  Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, accuses the Russians of war crimes in Syria so what do you call our role in the Yemen?


We have described the events in Yemen and the role of the UK in selling arms to the Saudis who are using them to bomb civilian targets in that country.  We have been assured that the UK has a strict policy when it comes to selling arms which does not in fact seem to work.  The most recent activity by our government is to block and enquiry by the European Union into allegations of war crimes in Yemen.

The UN’s Human Rights Council based in Geneva was hoping to carry out a proper enquiry but this was stymied by the UK.  Only today, Boris Johnson condemned the Russians for war crimes in Syria alleging that civilians were being targeted.  There seems little difference to what the Russians are alleged to be doing and what we are doing by selling arms to the Saudis who then use them to bomb civilian targets, hospitals and schools.

arms protest

Amnesty protest against arms sales to Yemen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The policy has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.


Leaked report on BBC’s Newsnight criticises supposedly rigorous arms sales regime

Hospital strike. Source IB times

On the BBC last night (6 September) there was an item concerning arms sales by Britain to Saudi Arabia.  Readers of this blog will be no strangers to this item and we have been highlighting this trade for some time.  The weapons are being used to bomb Yemen and targets include hospitals, schools and even wedding parties.  British service personnel are involved in the command centre doing what is not entirely clear.

At last the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls is asking questions and a leak of their report said:

The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia while maintaining the credibility of our arms licensing regime

Oxfam is among the agencies who have been critical of this trade and the results in Yemen.  At least 4,000 have died, many have had to flee their homes and among the dead are women and children.  Oxfam said:

The UK government is in denial and disarray over its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen.  It has misled its own parliament about its oversight of arms sales and its international credibility is in jeopardy as it commits to action on paper but does the opposite in reality

Even now, the Foreign Office continues to defend the sales and Boris Johnson has reportedly defended the Saudis saying:

They have the best insight into its own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigation

Will be able to but will they?

Of course this is linked to the powerful lobbying by the arms firms themselves and countries like Saudi (who have a representative Adel al-Jubeir here to try and persuade the Committee not to recommend banning arms sales).  The current version of Private Eye (1246) has a lengthy report on what is called the ‘revolving door,’ that is the huge numbers of senior civil servants, ex-ministers and senior military people who move from their posts into companies and firms linked to their previous roles.  It makes the point that sound government is eroded if ministers and other senior people are hoping to hop into a lucrative directorship or consultancy once they leave government or the services. In a four page report it lists the shear numbers moving out of government or the services into commercial posts usually linked to their previous roles.  How likely are they to stop sales to Saudi if it could jeopardise their post ministerial employment?

The Committee meets today so it will be interesting to hear what they decide.

Sources: BBC; International Business Times; the Sun; Oxfam; Amnesty International

 

 


War in Yemen

For most of this year we have been commenting on the war in Yemen and the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  We wrote to the Salisbury MP John Glen, who replied enclosing a bland statement from the Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  We have noted the government’s activities in getting the Saudi’s onto the UN’s Human Rights Council and the continued supply of arms to the Saudis despite their use in Yemen on civilian targets, schools and medical facilities.  We have also noted the steady softening of policies to make it easier – it is believed – for arms companies to ply their trade.  The Telegraph reported in an article in February, the difference between Syria and Yemen.  In the former country, bombing of a MSF hospital led to outrage by press and politicians in the UK:  by contrast, bombing of MSF hospitals in Yemen is greeted by a deafening silence :

Alas, this is not merely about Western indifference but about complicity and collusion. Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This was a unique opportunity to hold all sides of the conflict accountable for their actions. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to investigate itself through its own internal commission.  (24 Feb 2016)

Then, on Thursday 21st July when parliament rose, there was a curious statement issued by the FCO.  It has been forced to retract numerous written and oral statements to parliament which said ministers had assessed that Saudi Arabia was not in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

The admission led to calls by the Liberal Democrats for an investigation into Saudi behaviour in Yemen and a suspension of UK arms sales.  The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the Saudi military campaign has targeted civilians.  We also drew attention in a previous blog to the presence of British service personnel in Saudi control rooms.  The Foreign Office said the incorrect statements – made by three different ministers, some as far back as six months ago – were errors and did not represent an attempt to mislead MPs over its assessment of the Saudi campaign.

It stressed that other written answers had made clear that the UK government had made no assessment of whether the Saudis were in breach of humanitarian law.

The last day of parliament is a favourite time to slip out inconvenient statements since there is no time for questions or debate to take place.  The FCO simply said it had been reviewing the correspondence.

The government is facing a court case arguing that it should ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The Guardian newspaper said:

In its written answer published on Thursday, the Foreign Office said written answers in February 2016 had stated: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition.” The correction said these should have stated: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

The Foreign Office also corrected a written answer by the then foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who stated on 4 January 2016: “I regularly review the situation with my own advisers and have discussed it on numerous occasions with my Saudi counterpart. Our judgment is that there is no evidence that IHL has been breached, but we shall continue to review the situation regularly.”

This is something of a volt face and to issue such a statement on the last day of parliament is shameful.  It achieved its object however with next to no media coverage.  Why does it matter?  We are currently suffering a severe threat from ISIS with a recent outrage in Nice said to be inspired by the group.  Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen, supported by US and UK weapons, personnel and political cover, provide an ideal recruiting ground for this terrorist group.  At present all eyes are on Syria but how long will it be before our activities in Yemen come under the spotlight?


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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.