New report: UK government accused of 'arming repression' in the Persian Gulf

6 October 2016 - 7:15am
Press release

*Secret ‘Gulf Strategy Unit’ driving UK government complicity in state violence in the Gulf

*‘Murky network’ of British officials and corporations operating in the region, focused on trade, oil and ‘internal security’

* Tens of millions of pounds worth of crowd control technologies exported to repressive regimes

The UK government is playing a key role in arming repression throughout the Persian Gulf, making a mockery of any commitment to democracy and human rights, according to a new report published by War on Want.

From the training of sniper units to the sale of tear gas, and from the delivery of covert surveillance technologies to the provision of public order training, British officials and corporations, working closely together, are complicit in state violence in the Gulf.

Since 2010, the UK government has approved over 6,000 individual export licences to arms companies serving the region, with a combined value of £16 billion.

More than 120 of these export licences, valued in total at £45.6 million, involved items specifically designed for aggressive crowd control, such as tear gas agents and ammunition, CS grenades, water cannon and acoustic devices designed to cause severe discomfort and disperse crowds. These items destined for Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

British governments have long regarded the Gulf states as ‘vital partners’ in securing the UK’s energy security and military interests.  Yet the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf is taking on a new significance, with the UK government in the process of building a permanent presence in the region and establishing a dedicated British Defence Staff to oversee it. 

Coordinating this new level of strategic engagement is the ‘Gulf Strategy Unit’, a group which includes a range of public intelligence and security agencies, but which operates in secret.

The report, Arming Repression: The new British Imperialism in the Persian Gulf, lifts the lid on the murky and loosely connected network of British state and corporate actors operating in the Gulf region, focused on ensuring ‘stabilisation’ and ‘internal security’ through the export of material and training which is used for the purposes of internal repression.

John Hilary, Executive Director at War on Want, said:

"This is the latest chapter in the long and violent history of British imperialism in the Persian Gulf. The UK government’s renewed military and economic strategy is putting the UK’s access to oil ahead of any commitment to democracy and human rights. It’s time for an immediate ban on exports of arms and repressive technologies where there is a risk of use for internal repression or human rights violations.

"The government has a serious case to answer when clandestine meetings between public intelligence and security agencies form the basis of the UK’s role in arming repression in the Gulf. It’s time the government came clean on the personnel, objectives and activities of the government’s secretive Gulf Strategy Unit."

Dr Sam Raphael, the report’s author and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Westminster, said:

"Our investigation has uncovered the extent of British complicity in state violence in the Persian Gulf. In addition to UK support for the illegal Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen – through arms sales, targeting advice and intelligence sharing – our report details for the first time the sheer scope of weapons exports and training provided to regimes in the Gulf in order to police their own populations.

"From the sale of vast quantities of tear gas and other crowd control tools, to the training of sniper units used to put down pro-democracy protests, the UK government, working closely with a large number of private companies, are key partners for repressive regimes in the Gulf, with devastating consequences for democracy and human rights." 

Notes to editors

For further information and to arrange interviews contact Ross Hemingway on +44 7983 550728.

The new War on Want report, Arming Repression: UK military and economic strategy in the Persian Gulf, is written by Dr Sam Raphael and Jac St John. It can be downloaded here.

More than 120 export licences, valued in total at £45.6 million, were approved by the UK, which included the sale of items specifically designed for aggressive crowd control, such as tear gas agents and ammunition, CS grenades, water cannon and acoustic devices designed to cause severe discomfort and thereby disperse crowds:

  • £16.5 million worth of goods to Oman for ‘tear gas/irritant ammunition’ in August 2015
  • £6.1 million to UAE for ‘crowd control ammunition and tear gas/irritant ammunition’ in March 2014
  • £1.7 million to Saudi Arabia for ‘crowd control ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition and training crowd control ammunition’ in December 2012
  • £1.7 million to Oman for ‘acoustic devices for riot control’ in two licences dated March and June 2012

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