UK challenged over arms sales to Chile

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A group of heavily armed police stand in a group. One is holding a tear gas launcher.
Heavily armed police respond to protests in Chile. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas/UnSplash

The online newspaper Byline Times has challenged the UK's government over arms sales to Chile, after a Freedom of Information request found that 50% of the £164 million worth of arms licensed for sale since 2008 had been granted in the last year. This included an Open Individual License which allows an undisclosed company to sell an unlimited amount of “smoke canisters”, “smoke/pyrotechnic ammunition”, “tear gas/riot control agents”, “training CS hand grenades” and “training tear gas/irritant ammunition” over the next five years. The Byline Times FoI also asked the UK government about meetings between British officials and the Chilean Government, and any form of police training had been provided to members of Chile’s military or law enforcement, but all of this information was refused on the grounds it “would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and other states if it was disclosed”.

The report is significant because protesters in Chile in late 2019 have faced militarised police armed with tear gas, shotguns, water cannons and rubber bullets. with The Guardian reporting 23 were killed and thousands injured by "less lethal" projectiles. Amnesty International described the violence as “unnecessary and excessive force with the intention of injuring and punishing protesters”, and Chile's Human Rights Institute has detailed 1400 injuries from gunshots and 220 cases of severe eye trauma. Protesters have described violent and degrading treatment at the hands of Chile's Carabineros, a militarised police force, including strip searches.

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