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THE government secretly suspended sales of tear gas to the US amid concerns of police brutality against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters, but has now renewed them again.
Whitehall officials quietly suspended exports of riot control equipment to the US to allow a review to be carried out into the sales, according to the Independent.
However the government’s legal department last week concluded that there was “no clear risk” that the equipment has been used for internal repression, which would violate Britain’s export licensing rules.
In private letters, officials gave the green light over last weekend to lift the suspension, the newspaper said.
Human rights groups have repeatedly voiced concerns about police brutality against BLM demonstrations, which were triggered in May by the killing of George Floyd, including the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters and the arrest of dozens of journalists.
Amnesty International’s Oliver Feeley-Sprague said that officials should explain how British-manufactured tear gas or rubber bullets can safely be sent to US police departments without the risk of them being used against peaceful BLM protesters.
“Coming after the scandal of [British] arms sales to Saudi Arabia, this is another sign that [Britain’s] arms export licensing system is unfit for purpose,” he said.
“We urgently need a root-and-branch overhaul of the entire arms export system, and meanwhile all policing and security equipment exports intended for US police forces should be stop immediately, with all existing licences cancelled.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade branded the decision by the British government’s lawyers to renew sales despite ongoing fears of human rights abuses as “shameful.”
“This decision gives yet another message of contempt to people protesting against police violence in the US and beyond,” he told the Morning Star.
“By arming and supporting forces that are using these kinds of weapons, the UK government is making itself complicit in these abuses.”
The government is facing a legal challenge over the sale of riot control equipment to the US, which is being crowdfunded by small donations (www.crowdjustice.com/case/stop-arming-the-us-police/).
A Department for International Trade spokesperson refused to answer questions about the review and suspension of arms sales.
They said: “The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and 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.”
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