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Westminster Hall: Arms sales (Human rights)

Rose to speak at 2.30 pm:

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Click HERE to watch.

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I am the last person to speak today before the Front-Bench spokespersons and, as people can well imagine, a lot of things that I am going to say have already been said. However, if we stand together and say the same thing, it will make the story and make our case even stronger.

I am very pleased that we are having this debate today. As we have already heard, the debate about UK arms sales and human rights internationally is very relevant, as this week London is hosting the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair, one of the largest arms fairs in the world. Countries with very bad human rights records are present at that fair, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Thailand, so it is right that we ask whether UK arms sales are compatible with promoting human rights around the world. I firmly believe that they are not.

We recently learnt that warplanes made in the UK have been used by Saudi Arabia in attacks on Yemen. Those air strikes have already killed hundreds of civilians, including more than 64 children. Saudi Arabia also has an appalling record when it comes to domestic human rights. The regime is engaged in a campaign of repression against opposition and pro-democracy groups in the country. It also carries out scores of executions against individuals, often after unfair trials.

The UK has also continued to sell arms to Israel, despite its ongoing illegal occupation of the west bank. Israel currently holds more than 5,000 Palestinians as political prisoners, and last summer it carried out a military campaign that besieged the Gaza strip and led to the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians, over 500 of whom were children.

By selling arms to countries involved in these violations, the UK is not only condoning the Governments who are carrying out these policies but actively supporting them. This activity also sends out the message that the UK will turn a blind eye to human rights violations committed by its allies. That is bad in itself, but it also weakens our hand when it comes to promoting human rights in countries that are not our allies at the moment, leaving us open to charges of hypocrisy.

No doubt we will hear from the Government that the UK has one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. That may be true, but our controls are clearly not good enough if weapons made in the UK still end up in the hands of regimes that violate basic human rights and carry out attacks that harm civilians.

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Kate Osamor MP

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