Oxfam slams loophole for arms exporters to Uganda

British charity Oxfam has criticised the United Kingdom for a legal loophole that allowed the sale of military equipment to Uganda which were used to violently quell opposition demonstrations.

Oxfam said that a South African-based subsidiary company of British defence equipment and aerospace giant, BAE Systems, had supplied armoured vehicles to the East African nation despite democracy concerns by London which led to a suspension of aid last year.

The London-based group said that under the current UK export control legislation, arms manufacturers that cannot sell directly to a foreign country can nevertheless do so legally by using offshore subsidiaries.

“Loopholes in British arms laws have allowed the sale of military equipment to the Uganda government,” Oxfam said in a report.

“The lack of international controls on the arms trade is making a mockery of national arms laws,” said Phil Bloomer, Oxfam’s policy director.

“This report shows that loopholes are allowing subsidiaries of British companies to make weapons sales that British-based companies would not have had authorised.”

Bloomer said that proceeds accrued from sales by subsidiary companies, even if not directly sold by Britain, was beneficial to parent companies.

According to the Oxfam report, Lands Systems OMC—the South African subsidiary—has sold Uganda at least 32 armoured vehicles since 2002, with the latest delivery of 12 vehicles brought in shortly before the February 23 elections won by incumbent President Yoweri Museveni.

The vehicles were used to quell demostrations in Kampala in November following the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye after returning from exile in South Africa, the report said, adding that they were also used by the army to patrol an opposition rally in which at leat two people were killed and several injured.

Security officials also used the vehicles to disperse opposition supporters four days before before polling day, which also resulted in injuries, two of them serious.

“While the British government condemns human rights abuses in Uganda, a subsidiary of a British company sells weapons. The result is armoured vehicles being used against civilians and the proceeds from these sales lining pockets of British companies,” Bloomer added.

“Whilst there is no suggestion that British companies have opted to pursue offshore subsidiaries as a deliberate attempt to bypass UK export laws, the consequence of this lack of control is that subsidiaries can and have exported weapons to countries that would have not received export licences from the UK,” the report said.

The group called for the control of subsidiary firms in which the UK has majority shareholding which should be subjected to the country’s export controls, instituting of multilateral legally-binding measures such as the Arms Trade Treaty and increase of transparency in trade.

“The proposed international Arms Trade Treaty would close these loopholes by ensuring global standards exist—stopping sales to regimes that abuse human rights,” Oxfam said in the report.

The group noted that while Britain has lobbied for an international Arms Trade Treaty it has failed to show leadership at the UN to make the proposed treaty a reality nor has it tightened loopholes to stop the sale of arms to regimes that violate human rights. - AFP

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