The DSEI arms fair starts in London
This bi-annual event held in London receives a considerable amount of opposition and is a place for protest against the arms trade. The description of the event by the organisers is blandness itself:
World leading event that brings together the global defence and security sectors to innovate and share knowledge.
It paints a picture of people coming together in some kind of seminar format to discuss defence issues as though it is a think-tank. The reality is a little different as it is a place where all kinds of weapons manufacturers can display and secure deals to a wide range of countries who come to visit. If it is as benign as the description implies one has to ask why organisations like Amnesty are denied access? The purpose is to sell arms and to quote the organising company:
It’s a model that works well in the Middle East…There’s a lot of money being spent here in the UAE on homeland security technology, so it’s a good market in which to roll out our brand
Among the invitees are countries with highly dubious and questionable human rights records. These include according to the guest list: Brunei, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE. If we look at Bahrain in particular, a recent Amnesty report on the country published earlier this year concluded, inter alia:
Since June 2016, the Bahraini authorities have dramatically stepped up their crackdown on dissent. As a result, by June 2017, Bahrain’s formerly thriving civil society had found itself reduced to a few lone voices brave enough to speak out. The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risk of doing so has become too high. Over the course of a year, the authorities increasingly resorted to a wide range of repressive tactics including arrest, harassment, threats, prosecution and imprisonment to silence peaceful critics. Amnesty International’s research concludes that the security forces have even resorted to torturing or otherwise ill-treating human rights defenders, both men and women, a practice that has not been prevalent in Bahrain since the height of the crackdown that followed the 2011 uprising.
The report went onto to describe how Bahrain has backtracked on reform and noted that in the period June 2016 to June 2017, 169 critics or relatives have been arrested, summonsed, interrogated, prosecuted, imprisoned, banned from travel or threatened. Freedom of expression is increasingly criminalised and the opposition party has in effect been dismantled. The report was compiled after a large number of interviews were carried out including with 52 victims, 58 journalists, lawyers and others, and the investigation of 210 cases.
The British government has worked hard to promote our interests with Bahrain and a Daily Mail article in 2016 detailed the many links from the Queen down through the rest of the Royal Family. Theresa May visited recently.
As far as the Arms fair DSEI itself is concerned, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade which is helping to coordinate protests said:
DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies. Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in? War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI. It’s time to shut it down for good
DSEI was formerly part of the UK Trade and Industry Department but has now been moved to the newly formed Department for International Trade the minister of which is Liam Fox.
In an interview on the BBC today (11 September) Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, said “[the UK] sells too many arms to countries which abuse human rights.”
The guest list shows several firms with a Salisbury link who are exhibiting at this fair. They include Babcock, Chemring’s, QinetiQ and Cubic.
The government has got itself into something of a fix over the question of arms sales. Whilst claiming to have a strict code and robust procedures, the sale of arms to questionable regimes has increased. Thousands of jobs now depend on this industry and with future problems likely to arise connected with our withdrawal from the EU, from an economic viewpoint we can ill afford to reduce sales of weapons. It is thus on a treadmill requiring it to support the sale of weapons to a range of unsavoury regimes who in turn use these weapons to intimidate their own people or to cause suffering of neighbouring countries such as the bombing of Yemen by the Saudis. It is also important to bear in mind that it is not just weapons that are involved but also security equipment. Autocratic regimes are keen to keep tabs on their citizens and need all the techniques of surveillance to do so. This kind of equipment, although not lethal of itself, does enable individuals to be monitored, watched and harassed.
The position is indefensible and some of the arguments echo those used by the slave trade in the nineteenth century where large numbers of jobs were involved in its continuation.
If you are keen to join us then come to the next event we are holding on 18 September and make yourself known.