Britain has approved more than 3,000 export licences for arms and military equipment sales to countries which it has concerns about over human rights, MPs say.

The Committees on Arms Export Control of the The House of Commons, the UK's lower parliament, urged the government to be more cautious in approving applications for the export of arms to countries with authoritarian regimes.

According to the MP's report, the government would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time.

Britain's foreign ministry has a list of 27 nations where the UK government has wide-ranging concerns about the human rights situation. The list includes Myanmar, China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Syria.

Among these countries, the largest number of licenses were issued for exports to China, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The suppliers to China have the largest numbers of licences, with 1,163 worth $2.7bn.

As well as cryptographic equipment, the exports included direct military communications equipment, body armour and weapons sights

There are 62 licences for Iran, including components for military electronics and what is described as equipment employing cryptography.

There were also 271 licences for Russia allowing the export of sniper rifles, laser weapons systems, weapon sights, drones and biotechnology equipment.

The combined value of the individual export licenses came to more than $18.1bn.

Internal repression

According to the report, all 27 countries except North Korea and South Sudan have valid export licenses in play.

In response to the report, the British government stressed it has one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes, under which licenses are not granted when there is deemed to be a risk that goods would be used for internal repression or to provoke or prolong conflict in the countries they are exported to.

The government added in a statement that all of the licenses highlighted in the committees' report had been "fully assessed" against a range of strident criteria to ensure goods would not be used for internal repression, to provoke or prolong conflict within a country, used aggressively against another country or risk Britain's national security.

The Committees on Arms Export Controls is made up of the House of Commons defence, foreign affairs, international development and business, innovation and skills committees.

Source: Agencies