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Campaigners take government to court over arms to Indonesia

TAPOL News Release - March 7, 1997

The Government today refused to cancel arms export licences to Indonesia triggering a legal challenge from three campaigning organisations. It will be the first ever legal challenge to the Government's arms export policy.

TAPOL (the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign), Campaign Against Arms Trade and the World Development Movement had given the Government until today to cancel the licences issued in December 1996 for arms including 50 Scorpion armoured vehicles, 7 Tactica water cannon and over 300 armoured vehicles. The three organisations maintain that the Government is in breach of its own arms export policies which claim to take into account the human rights record in the recipient country.

They have obtained photographic evidence of British military equipment being used for repressive purposes. In arguing for the revoking of the licences, the organisations point to the catalogue of incidents involving British-made equipment. (Summary attached.)

Today's letter from the Department of Trade and Industry states that although the President of the Board of Trade "will have continuing regard to events in Indonesia, he does not intend at present to revoke the licences".

The three organisations had drawn the President of the Board of Trade's attention to the worsening situation as the Indonesian regime tightens security in the run up to the elections in May. They pointed out that British-made Scorpion tanks were among the weaponry put on show in Jakarta at the end of February.

Carmel Budiardjo, on behalf of the three organisations said: "We are saddened and angered that the Government has refused to cancel the licences for arms to Indonesia. We will now have to resort to the High Court to stop these arms exports contributing to the repression of Indonesians who are pressing for democratic rights.'

Timetable of events:

April 1996 - Ujung Pandang, three students die as British-made armoured personnel carriers break up a peaceful demonstration.

June 1996 - Bandung, British water cannon spray chemicals on a peaceful student gathering.

July 1996 - Jakarta British water cannon spraying pink chemical solution break up peaceful pro-democracy demonstration.

October 1996 - Minister of State Jeremy Hanley tells Parliament: "If water cannon is used to try to stop peaceful demonstrations, that is of course totally unacceptable."

9 December 1996 - British Government announces the granting of export licences for more than 300 armoured vehicles and seven water cannon.