Repression in the Persian Gulf is being fuelled by the UK Government and private arms and security firms in Scotland who work secretly with regimes accused of human rights abuses, according to a new report.

War On Want has accused the government of complicity in state violence in nations such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and of “making a mockery of any commitment to democracy and human rights” via secret deals.

The report – Arming Repression: The new British Imperialism in the Persian Gulf – exposes the role of a government body called the Gulf Strategy Unit while revealing that British military sales in the region have been worth £16bn since 2010.

“From the training of sniper units to the sale of tear gas, and from the delivery of covert surveillance technologies to the provision of public order training, British officials and corporations, working closely together,” War On Want said adding that the UK government has approved over 6000 export licences for the region over the last five years.

An arms firm based in Scotland making explosives is one of a number of companies named in the report.

Chemring – which has a factory in Stevenston, Ayrshire – has applied for export licences to sell ammunition and equipment to Gulf states including Saudi Arabia.

The report says that in 2012 a licence was granted for the sale of CS hand grenades to Saudi Arabia, worth £469,215.

War On Want added: “In 2015, the company won a record contract worth in excess of £100 million to supply 40mm grenades to an unnamed country in the Middle East. Between 2011 and 2015, Chemring requested 78 export licences to sell weapons, ammunition and equipment to Gulf states.

“The sale of tear gas, through its operating company Chemring Defence, has been particularly controversial in recent years. In December 2011, it was revealed that Chemring manufactured tear gas was being used to suppress pro-democracy protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.”

The role of private security firms and individuals is also highlighted including that of Scottish officer Sir Graeme Lamb, the former director of UK special forces.

Sir Graeme – who was educated at the independent Rannoch School near Pitlochry before it closed in 2002 – is a director with Aegis Defence which operates in Bahrain, a regime accused of brutally suppressing democracy protests in recent years.

Aegis Defence is chaired by Sir Nicholas Soames, a Tory MP and Winston Churchill’s grandson, and the firm was accused this year of employing mercenaries from Sierra Leone – including former child soldiers – to work in Iraq because they were cheaper than Europeans.

The report says that Sir Graeme is also special advisor to G3, a PR firm which, the report says, received £1.5m from Bahrain to run a media campaign on behalf of the regime.

Private security firm Control Risks is also named. The company has offices in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and its chairman is Crawford Gillies.

Gillies – a director with Scottish Southern Energy – is a former chairman of both Scottish Enterprise and the Confederation of British Industry London.

The security multinational QinetiQ – a highly secretive company with premises in Glasgow, Stevenston, Loch Goil, Rosyth, Kyle of Lochalsh, Stranraer, Loch Fyne and the Hebrides – is also named for its links to UAE

War On Want said that the body coordinating UK strategic engagement is the Gulf Strategy Unit, which includes a range of public intelligence and security agencies but which operates in secret.

Dr Sam Raphael, the report’s author and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Westminster, said: “In addition to UK support for the illegal Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen – through arms sales, targeting advice and intelligence sharing – our report details for the first time the sheer scope of weapons exports and training provided to regimes in the Gulf in order to police their own populations.

“From the sale of vast quantities of tear gas and other crowd control tools, to the training of sniper units used to put down pro-democracy protests, the UK government, working closely with a large number of private companies, are key partners for repressive regimes in the Gulf.”

Tom Barns from Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “From Egypt to Hong Kong, it is clear that teargas produced by Chemring has been used by governments to crush pro-democracy protests. Chemring has also sold weapons to the authoritarian regime of Saudi Arabia, which brutally represses their own population as a matter of course and is currently undertaking brutal airstrikes on Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians.

“Companies like Chemring that profit from war and human-rights abuses should never be seen as legitimate businesses, yet they are given the full support of the UK government.”

“The UK government talks about human-rights and democracy, but in reality it routinely arms some of the most violent and authoritarian regimes in the world. The UK should end this support for war and repression immediately, starting with an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia”.

In response, the UK Government said: “The Government takes its arms export responsibilities extremely seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National arms export licensing Criteria and risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.

“Our export licensing system allows us to respond quickly to changing facts on the ground.  We have suspended or revoked licences when the level of risk changes – for example, most recently in Ukraine and Russia – and we constantly review local situations.”

A spokesperson for Control Risks said: “In the interests of accuracy – if the inference is (given the  reference to Control Risks is under the ‘Private training’ section) that the company provides training to security forces, that is incorrect. We provide strategic advice and support to international organisations operating within the region.”

Chemring, QinetiQ, G3 and Sir Nicholas Soames all declined to comment.

Header photo: CC | Bahrain in Pictures

This story was published by the Sunday Herald on 9th October 2016.