A rigorous, responsible and transparent export-licensing process is vital to ensure that arms exports uphold the stability and security of recipient countries and the human rights of their people. While we do export licensable equipment to countries featuring as a countries of concern in this report, commercial relationships do not prevent us from speaking frankly and openly to the governments of these countries about issues of concern, including human rights. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) is the licensing authority for strategic arms exports from the United Kingdom. The FCO acts as a policy adviser, providing BIS with advice and analysis of the foreign policy aspects of each export licence application. DFID, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department of energy and Climate Change (DECC) also provide policy advice to BIS. Some 15,000 export licence applications are processed annually. Each is assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. These are based on an EU Common Position and include a requirement which is specifically intended to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries of final destination. This stipulates that the Government will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression. This is a mandatory criterion which means that if it is judged that such a clear risk exists, the Government must refuse the licence and may not take into account any other factors.
When making export-licensing decisions, the Government examines the political and security conditions in the destination country, the nature of the equipment to be exported, the organisation or unit which will ultimately use it and all available information about how similar equipment has been used in the past and how it is likely to be used in the future. We consult FCO experts in the UK and in our missions overseas and take into account reports from NGOs and the media. Sensitive or finely balanced cases are submitted to ministers for decision.
Once approved, export licences are kept under review. The Government has access to a wide range of daily reporting, including from its global network of embassies and high commissions. This enables us to respond swiftly to changes in risk. In the light of the events of the 2011 Arab Spring, over 150 extant licences were revoked because we judged there to be a heightened risk that the exports concerned might be used in ways which would be contrary to the Consolidated Criteria.
In 2011, (the last complete year for which statistics are available), 82 export licences were refused under Criterion 2. Case studies based on actual export licence applications are published in the Government’s Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls (the 2012 edition is due in July 2013). These demonstrate how human rights considerations, among other criteria, are factored into assessments, and provide an insight into how the Government assesses licence applications on a case-by-case basis.
The recommendations of the 2011 FCO Review of Arms Export Policy have now been fully implemented. These include:
- a mechanism enabling the Government to suspend export licensing to a particular country in response to a sudden deterioration in its security or stability which makes conducting a proper risk assessment of export licence applications impracticable for a sustained period;
- updating country risk categories used in the export-licensing assessment process quarterly, based on objective internal and external indicators, including those provided through the Building Stability Overseas Strategy; and
- consulting FCO ministers more on export licence applications, particularly those for equipment that might be used for internal repression. Ministers saw some 300 submissions about export licences in 2012, compared to 153 in 2011 and 39 in 2010.
These improvements have helped to ensure that the UK continues to operate one of the most robust as well as one of the most transparent export-licensing systems in the world.