By Grace Livingstone
6th September 2021
The British government approved export licences for machine gun parts for Colombia last year, despite the poor human rights record of the Colombian security forces.
The UK’s Department for International Trade’s Strategic Export Control report 2020 shows that an open individual export licence for machine gun components and machine gun technology was approved, along with licences for aircraft cannon, electronic warfare equipment, components for surface-to-air missile and components for armed vehicles. Since January 2020, the British government has approved £2.7m of arms export licences for Colombia. In total, it has approved £28m worth of arms sales to Colombia since 2008.
More than 50 people were killed during mass protests in Colombia between April and June 2021 and more than 1,100 were injured, according to Colombia’s Attorney General. The bodies of dozens of protestors have not been found; the disappearance of 84 civilians is being investigated by the Ombudsman’s office. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has condemned the Colombian state’s ‘excessive and disproportionate use of force, including lethal force’ during the protests.
The British government says it does not authorize defence equipment if ‘there is a clear risk’ that it is likely to be used for internal repression. So do these licences for machine gun parts violate its own guidelines? Reports of state violence against protestors have not indicated that machine guns were used. It is more likely that machine guns were used in Colombia’s counter insurgency war. However, the Colombian armed forces have repeatedly violated the rights of civilians during its offensives against armed groups. The Colombian armed forces were responsible for more than 6,400 extra judicial killings of civilians between 2002 and 2008, according to a recent investigation by Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a body created during the peace process. The (JEP) investigators exhumed hundreds of mass graves as part of its investigation into the ‘false positives’ scandal.
The British licences for machine gun parts do not say who the end user is. It is highly probable that the Colombian security forces are the end user. Given Colombia’s history of illegal armed groups and paramilitarism, the sale of machine gun parts to private buyers in Colombia would be unlikely and equally concerning.
The Department of International Trade declined to say who the purchaser of the machine gun parts was. When asked whether the approval of machine gun parts violated the UK government’s own guidelines, a Department of Trade spokesman said: “The UK operates one of the most comprehensive export control regimes in the world and rigorously assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. “We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”