The UK sold £575.7m ($874.5m) worth of arms to four GCC countries last year, despite concerns over human rights following the Arab Spring, according to an arms trade watchdog.
The greatest fear was directed at Saudi Arabia, which was granted arms export licences worth £112m for 209 items, including aircraft, helicopters, and drones worth £81.4m, armoured vehicles and tanks worth £8.8m and crowd control ammunition grenades worth up to £3.2m, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has revealed, using information from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
In the past four years, the UK sold nearly £4bn in arms to the kingdom, which is ranked poorly in international democracy and press freedom indexes and still carries out capital punishment on a regular basis.
The UK also sold £433m worth of military equipment and services to Oman last year, £26.2m to the UAE and £4.6m to Bahrain, which has been heavily criticised internationally for supressing democracy campaigns since 2011, which have led to several deaths.
English daily The Guardian reported that the government insisted the rules for granting licences were robust and transparent, but campaigners argued the regulations allowed substantial arms exports to authoritarian regimes.
"These figures for 2012 show the UK arms industry continues to focus on the Gulf states, despite their reputation for human rights abuse and lack of democracy," a CAAT spokesperson told The Guardian.
"The prime minister and arms company executives visit Saudi Arabia to beg for orders and routinely roll out the red carpet for Saudi delegations to the UK, as they will be doing in September for the DSEi arms fair.
"It's time to end this damaging and dangerous relationship and stop selling arms to this repressive regime."
A BIS spokeswoman insisted the UK took enormous care before granting applications and that there was no evidence any British exports had been used for internal repression in a Gulf state, according to The Guardian.
She said the government had turned down applications where there was doubt over what the equipment would be used for.
"The UK government takes its export licensing responsibilities seriously and operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world,” the spokeswoman said.
“Any application to export a product covered by an export control is assessed against internationally recognised criteria on a case by case basis. Each assessment we make takes into account the intended end use of the equipment, the behaviour of the end user, the risk of diversion and the prevailing circumstances in the country concerned.
“We pay particular attention to allegations of human rights abuses."
During two visits to Saudi Arabia last year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron also defended arms sales to Gulf countries as "entirely legitimate" and said such sales contributed to the 600,000 jobs in the UK’s arms industry.
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