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Labour government to honor previous arms contracts to Indonesia

Tapol - July 20, 1997

The speech on Thursday, 17 July, by Robin Cook in which he again stressed that human rights would be at the heart of Britain's foreign policy under the Labour Government was widely reported and commented on in all the media - radio, TV and in the print media on Friday.

Virtually everywhere, Indonesia became the chief topic of discussion and comment and in many interviews, he was pressed to explain why Indonesia had not been mentioned (only Nigeria and Iraq were mentioned by name) and asked whether he would halt arms sales to Jakarta.

Point 3 of his 12 principles is as follows:

'Britain will refuse to supply equipment and weapons with which regimes deny the demands of their peoples for human rights. Last month, I announced a review of Government criteria for the licensing of weapons for export. The review will give effect to Labour's policy commitment that we will not supply equipment or weapons that might be used for internal repression. The full results of the review will be published shortly, but I can announce today that they will result in changes to the present policy governing licensing of riot control vehicles, small arms and other equipment for sale to the security forces of certain regimes.'

This is interpreted as meaning that licenses will not in future be issued for certain types of equipment to Indonesia, possibly including water cannon.

However, as the Financial Times pointed out, Mr Cook also made it plain that he would not revoke licences already issued, meaning that huge amounts of equipment to the Indonesian police and army will proceed, as well as the delivery of 16 Hawks, the licence for which was approved in 1996. This is in addition to 24 Hawks agreed in 1993, and the delivery of which was completed in 1996.

It is evident that the arms manufacturers are lobbying hard with the government at all levels to protect their hugely profitable trade with Indonesia. We know that Lord Hollick, a Labour peer who until recently sat on the Board of Directors of British Aerospace, resigned his position to become a personal adviser to Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, the government department that issues licenses for the export of arms.

TAPOL, along with the World Development Movement and Campaign Against Arms Trade tried to take the previous government to court to force it to revoke two licenses for riot control equipment. Clearly if the review that is due to be published later this month fails to meet our demands, more campaigning will be needed.

However, the public response to Robin Cook's speech shows that part of the battle has been won, in the sense that Indonesia is now firmly established in the public perception as a Pariah State.