Human rights called into question as UK arms Sri Lanka


In mid-February it was recently confirmed that over £2 million worth of arms – from ammunition and pistols to shotguns and assault rifles – have been sold to Sri Lanka, despite the nation’s dire human rights records and the UK Foreign Office’s designation of it as “a country of concern” back in December 2012.

The nation of Sri Lanka has been an observer of the long-time civil struggle between the Tamils and the government. The most recent conflict in 2009 resulted in approximately 30,000 civilians being killed during the conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil separatists, who form a banned terrorist organisation called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It is believed that the Sri Lankan military is most responsible for these deaths, and they have since been accused of brutal abuse of power. To date, authorities have denied charges, thus leaving the issue very much clouded and questionable.

The UK had continued its sale of arms to the country, a transaction reported to have begun shortly after the 2009 unrest. In response to the controversy caused by this relationship, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt recently stated, “The UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control systems in the world.” He said that the licensing and exports of fire arms were not intended for the Sri Lankan government, although the Campaign Against Arms Trade database for strategic exports control (CAAT) seems to suggest otherwise. This subsequently calls into question the consideration of human rights.

The CAAT’s 2011 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished depicts atrocities still being committed by the government three years on from the 2009 defeat. Graphic scenes include the shelling of a hospital, and suggested targeted executions including that of 12-year-old Balachandran Prabhakaran, the son of the Tamil Tigers leader. A photograph depicted him in the custody of the Sri Lankan military, and a second photograph, published two hours later, showed him on the ground with tiny bullet holes in his chest. Escalated theories suggested that he was killed by the military.

Although political violence between the military and the LTTE have ceased for now, it is apparent the country is far from peace and the UK’s continued export of arms will continue to probe at the underlying tension of the suffering nation. It is time that our government considers whether the price of its arms sales outweighs the price of preserving human life — that is, if they haven’t made that decision already.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons


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