Britain is helping to train the militaries of over a dozen countries involved in serious breaches of human rights abuses, it has been revealed.
Seventeen countries on the Foreign Office’s own human rights watch list, defined as states where the UK is “particularly concerned about human rights issues” received instruction from the British armed forces from 2018-2020.
The Independent reported at the weekend that the UK was as recently as March providing training to the armed forces of Belarus, a dictatorship where pro-democracy protesters have faced repression in recent months.
But ministers have now admitted that from 2018-2020, the UK armed forces provided training to states on the FCO’s own watch list: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.
The UK provided sniper commander courses to soldiers in Bahrain, which cracked down on peaceful dissent in 2018, virtually eliminating all opposition to its government, according to NGO Human Rights Watch.
It also trained Saudi Arabian forces in fighter jet and tactical weapons use, while the country was engaged in an aerial bombardment in Yemen that the UN and aid agencies says has created a humanitarian catastrophe.
Egyptian forces were given a commando training course, while in 2018-19 the UK helped train China’s officer corps.
Britain is in fact training the militaries of the majority of countries on its own human rights watch list: 17 out of 30 on the so-called “human rights priority countries” register.
Other countries with poor human rights records not on the UK’s watch list were also given training, including Oman, Qatar, Turkey, the UAE, and the Philippines.
The figures were revealed in response to a written parliamentary question by Labour MP Sam Tarry.
The Ministry of Defence says it keeps any training it does with other countries under review.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Many of these armies have appalling human rights records and have been linked to brutal oppression as well as international aggression.
“By training and collaborating with despots, dictatorships, and human rights abusers the UK risks making itself complicit in the abuses that are being inflicted.
“For far too long, successive UK governments have talked about the importance of human rights and democracy while arming, supporting, and strengthening authoritarian regimes across the world.
“There must be an end to the hypocrisy and a full review of which forces the UK has trained and if they have been linked to human rights abuses.”