THE European Union this week partially lifted sanctions against Zimbabwe in an effort to encourage a credible constitutional referendum and general elections, but a report by the bloc’s Committee for Arms Export Controls released on July 13 lists the country among potentially repressive states still receiving arms from Britain.EU eased restrictions on development aid to Zimbabwe, although an assets freeze and targeted travel bans remain in force against specific Zanu PF leaders and some of their associates, for human rights abuses.
Even if the reinstatement of development aid could mean more much-needed assistance for the country, no mention was made of the UK’s secret supply of military equipment to Zimbabwe.
According to the Arms Export Control Committee in 2011, 28 countries, including Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and the DRC were “provided licences authorised by the government (of Britain) in the period January 1 to December 31 2011 for equipment that might be used to facilitate internal repression”.
The licences are mainly for cryptographic software and equipment which can be used for encryption, spying and code scrambling by military intelligence. Internationally, cryptographic equipment is classified as weapons and subject to arms-trafficking export regulations.
Committee chairman Sir John Stanley criticised the UK’s export of security technology to authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe as code scrambling could help government restrict the flow of information and suppress protests.
“This equipment scrambles conversations and makes speech unintelligible, and it is a key element of protecting communications used by security forces,” said Stanley.
“If you are an authoritarian and repressive regime preparing an operation to send tanks into a village or break up a demonstration, security forces take great care to make sure those they are going to attack don’t get any warning in advance,” he said.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (Caat), an international anti-arms trade pressure group, has records showing that between 2008 and 2012, the UK issued five export licences for cryptographic equipment. The two licences issued in 2009 and 2010 were worth an estimated US$57,6 million (£35 656 000). The most recent arms export licence was issued on February 14, 2012 for an undisclosed amount.
The British government has remained secretive about details of its arms export licencing. In a 2007 parliamentary questions session Labour MP Harry Cohen asked the then Energy minister Malcolm Wicks for more clarity on UK arms export licencing, but Wicks said such issues were a private and confidential matter between governments.
In 2000 Tony Blair’s government came under fire for issuing licences for Hawk fighter jet spares sale to Zimbabwe and MPs accused the government of breaching EU and UK guidelines on arms exports.
In May this year, weapons manufacturers were summoned to parliament to explain why five Hawk fighter jets and 1 030 Land Rovers for police use were sold to Zimbabwe between 1989 and 1992. The Arms Export Committee report shows that in the first quarter of 2012 the UK issued military export licences worth more than US$960 million (£606 million), including to countries like Bahrain and Egypt where governments have ruthlessly crushed popular protests.
Last week, UK parliamentarian and former anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain called for a continuation of sanctions against Zimbabwe arguing that the military’s involvement in diamond mining and the CIO’s financial connections to Asian tycoons and syndicates posed a threat to the country’s stability.