UK government accused of 'complicity' in Qatar human rights abuses through £3.4bn arms sales

16 November 2022, 18:27

Members of the Qatari armed forces take part in a military parade.
Members of the Qatari armed forces take part in a military parade. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

The UK government has been accused of being "complicit" in human rights abuses in Qatar as a result of granting licences for the sale of £3.4bn worth of weapons since 2010 - the same year the country won the right to host the World Cup.

The accusation from the Scottish Green Party comes just days ahead of the first World Cup games after figures collated by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) were revealed.

The statistics show there was approval for licences to export bombs, ammunition, helicopters, machine guns, tanks, weapon sights, assault rifles and riot shields, from the UK to Qatar.

The weaponry was exported through the granting of £3.4bn worth of licences, though it is not possible to know just how many goods were exported and how much they are individually worth.

CAAT collated the data from the reports of the UK export control joint unit, which are published publicly by the Department for International Trade.The value of licences jumped dramatically this year as Qatar prepared to host the football tournament, reaching a high of £2.6bn.

Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson, Ross Greer MSP, said the figures showed the UK government was "complicit in the human rights abuses of which Qatar has been accused", including those against LGBT communities, women and migrants who built the football stadia.

"The World Cup has given the Qatari dictatorship a huge propaganda platform. But it has also put their appalling human rights record under the microscope like never before," he said.

"One reason why the regime has been able to inflict the atrocities and abuses that it has against LGBT+ people, women, migrant workers and others is because of the vast international support it has received from complicit governments like the one in Westminster.

“These abuses have been happening for years, and Downing Street has armed and supported the regime every step of the way. Every time the UK government approves an arms sale it is complicit in the suffering of ordinary people in Qatar.

“It is also sending a loud and clear message that the rights of Qatari people and human rights defenders don't matter, that their lives are less important than arms company profits.”

“The UK Government must halt these sales and end its support of a regime with such a horrendous record of human rights abuses. To do otherwise is to be knowingly complicit in the oppression and violence.”

Asked by LBC what proof he had that the arms supplied through UK government approved licenses were being used against Qataris, he said: "We know that the anti riot equipment which was authroised for sale from the UK to Qatar was for use by the police force.

"It is their police force that is primarily responsible for the violence inflicted on women, on LGBT people and on migrant workers."

Qatari authorities have been accused of modern day slavery after migrants suffered wage theft, illegal recruitment fees, injuries and even death in the building of football grounds.

More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have reportedly died since 2010.

Other human rights abuses include the restrictions on Qatari women who must obtain permission from their male family members to marry, study abroad, work in many government jobs and receive certain reproductive health care.

Qatar’s penal code criminalizes all forms of sex outside marriage - for women this can mean seven years in jail, if they're Muslim they can also be flogged or stones, while reporting rape is seen as a confession.

Similarly the law makes homosexuality illegal with up to seven years in prison.

Mr Greer added: "The UK should have stopped selling arms to Qatar years ago, with the spotlight on the human rights of that country right now the new UK government should use that to stand up and say they are ending that relationship with Qatar.

"Britain should be trying to raise the standards of human rights standards in other countries rather than continuing to give them the weapons they need to conintue inflicting abuses on their own people."

However the UK Government says it continually raises legitimate human rights concerns in Gulf states, both publicly and in private with authorities.

A spokesperson said: “The UK is a leading advocate for human rights around the world and we remain committed to the promotion of universal human rights.

“We take our export control responsibilities seriously and operates one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world.

“We consider all our export applications thoroughly against a strict risk assessment framework and keep all licences under careful and continual review as standard.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is due to attend the World Cup, and has faced criticism for telling gay fans not to protest and to comply with local laws while in Qatar.

On Monday he told the Commons foreign affairs committee he would be speaking to security authorities in Qatar to ensure British fans "remain safe".

He said that he had visited the country in the lead-up to the tournament and had told Qatari officials how important it was to the UK "that they should respect gay fans".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he and his frontbench will boycott the tournament.