Northern Ireland military exports and human rights violations in Syria

The United Nations report a death toll “much more than 4,000” in Syria, mostly anti-government protestors killed by the country’s security forces.

On 23 November, a Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council said it was “gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed” in Syria.

I can now report that Northern Ireland plc, acting perfectly legally, has done its bit to help prop up the repressive regime.

Anti-President Assad activists have posted this video of Northern Ireland manufactured armoured vehicles, apparently being used to hunt down regime opponents in Homs region last month.

The video shows a Shorts Brothers (Northern Ireland) Shorland armoured patrol car and armed personnel carrier patrolling the streets, reportedly in search of anti-government activists.

Jane’s Armour and Artillery has Syria listed as a customer of the Northern Ireland firm for this sort of hardware dating back to at least the 1980s.

One arms trade source described the line of vehicles this way:

Shorlands Internal Security Vehicles… Designed to provide Internal Security Forces with a robust, low cost armoured vehicle in operations to control civil unrest or against terrorist organisations.

An arms exhibition catalogue from the 1990s described the Shorland S55 armed personnel carrier thus:

designed for safe and rapid deployment of security forces in high risk areas.  Has eight gun ports for machine guns or riot guns. A roof mounted machine gun hatch and electronically operated smoke grenade dischargers are optional.

"Syrian Army Shorland Mk. 3 , Hama, August 11. Dshk machine gun mounted on the turret""Syrian Army Shorland Mk. 3 , Hama, August 11. Dshk machine gun mounted on the turret"

As for the armoured patrol car:

designed to operate efficiently in situations ranging from hard-hitting action on the streets to the rigours of cross-country patrol.

Pictures posted online from Syria have shown the Northern Ireland exported vehicles mounted with machine guns and bristling with other such “optional” accessories.

"Syrian security forces Shorland SB401, seen at Homs, July 19"

Those featured in the video may be a slightly different models, but their purpose is fairly obvious. Though exported decades ago, the vehicles are certainly seeing some “hard-hitting action on the streets” now, with a mounting death toll across Syria.

This Shorts Brothers business ultimately became part of the massive Thales Air Defence company and the armed vehicle business was sold off. As far as I am aware, in 1999 the Australian company Tenix Defence Systems acquired all of the vehicle business of the now BAE Systems Australia, including the Shorland family of armoured vehicles. It would be interesting to know which company has been maintaining the Syrian-owned vehicles all these years.

Even if one despises the use to which they are being put, one can certainly admire the longevity of these vehicles. But that very longevity underlines the need for the utmost care in agreeing the export destination of such military hardware.

The violent crackdown against pro-democracy protestors across the Middle East and North Africa has been fueled by a weakly regulated international arms trade. Northern Ireland is a key cog in that arms trade machine, as outlined in Amnesty’s 2007 report, Northern Ireland: Arming the World (pdf).

Globally, large quantities of arms, ammunition and other military hardware have been supplied to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, despite evidence that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations.

That’s why Amnesty and others are campaigning hard to see the UN agree a binding Arms Trade Treaty in 2012. If the Arms Trade Treaty is to be effective, it must provide guarantees that no government will permit the sale of arms if there is suspicion that they might fuel human rights abuses.

In fact, the very sort of thing that is happening right now in Syria.

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  • Patrick,

    The significance of this blog escapes me. If we had responded to an order for the vehicles within the past 6 months, yes; but they were sold decades ago.

  • sonofstrongbow

    You’ve got to wonder why ‘Northern Ireland plc’ has not cashed in on its undoubted most impressive, although still under wraps, product. I am of course referring to the Crystal Ball Machine. This device allows its operator to dial in any chosen date up to 100 years in the future and scan world events occurring on that day.

    Shorts Brothers obviously have access to the Crystal Ball Machine. How else to explain the company”s decision to sell armoured Land Rovers to Syria way-back-when to “help prop up the repressive regime” in 2011?

  • Lit Up

    “Even if one despises the use to which they are being put, one can certainly admire the longevity of these vehicles.”

    Haha. Do I sense in among the condemnation a little hint of pride there? Finally, Northern Ireland exported something other than the Titanic?

  • Mac

    Syria didn’t undergo some metamorphosis from a liberal democracy to a repressive regime with only 1 political party and no elections in response to the Arab Spring.
    Homosexuals face 3 years in gaol, over 1 million Kurds were denied citizenship and basic rights until quite recently and the security forces have been arresting and detaining political opponents without due process for at least 3 decades.

    But hey, there’s money to be made.

  • aquifer

    If Amnesty took on non-state abusers of human rights that would be a useful Northern Ireland export. Otherwise we could get stuck in a revolving door of ruthless and useless revolutions.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Stop Press * Belfast built ships and weapons supplied to Russia used to oppress vast swathes of Eastern Europe.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Given the requirement of some for the Libyan government to pay compensation for damage wrought by Libyan supplied weapons in Northern Ireland, the North, occupied 6 (delete where necessary), I assume the new Syrian government will be able to seek compensation from the UK for similar

  • No crystal balls were needed with regard to Syria. Human rights violations by the regime have been ongoing for decades. This is from the US State Department’s notes on Syria:

    “Officially, Syria is a republic. In reality, however, it is an authoritarian regime that exhibits only the forms of a democratic system. Although citizens ostensibly vote for the president and members of parliament, they do not have the right to change their government. The late President Hafiz Al-Asad was confirmed by unopposed referenda five times. His son, Bashar Al-Asad, also was confirmed by an unopposed referendum in July 2000 and May 2007. The President and his senior aides, particularly those in the military and security services, ultimately make most basic decisions in political and economic life, with a very limited degree of public accountability. Political opposition to the President is not tolerated. Syria has been under a state of emergency since 1963. Syrian governments have justified martial law by the state of war that continues to exist with Israel and by continuing threats posed by terrorist groups.

    …The President’s continuing strength is due also to the army’s continued loyalty and the effectiveness of Syria’s large internal security apparatus. The leadership of both is comprised largely of members of Asad’s own Alawi sect. The several main branches of the security services operate independently of each other and outside of the legal system. Each continues to be responsible for human rights violations.”

    Some may take a view that Northern Ireland should sell any sort of product to any sort of government which has the cash to pay and we should pay no heed to the consequences.

    Others may think that this is a particularly immoral / amoral standpoint, especially when one looks at the consequences in the likes of Syria.

    I think we need an international Arms Trade Treaty which means that no country is exporting arms and other military equipment to countries likely to use them for human rights violations.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Ok Pat I’m with you on this one. I too lament for the days when we in the West could satisfy the Fuzzie Wuzzies with beads and coloured ribbon.

  • carl marks

    sonofstrongbow (profile) says:
    7 December 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Ok Pat I’m with you on this one. I too lament for the days when we in the West could satisfy the Fuzzie Wuzzies with beads and coloured ribbon.

    wtf does that mean.

  • UPDATE: The Guardian live blog on the situation in the Middle East reports Opposition claims that the Syrian army are preparing to attack Homs, the source of the video featuring the NI-supplied armoured vehicles embedded above.

  • Evan

    Who ever said that the Northern Ireland economy was never anything more than a basket case?