UK Ministry of Defence invites arms-embargoed China and war-torn Iraq to shop for weapons at London arms fair

12 September 2005

Government invitations include 7 countries from their own list of world's top 20 human rights abusers

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) yesterday revealed that it has invited China, subject to an EU arms embargo, to shop for weapons at Europe's largest arms fair. DSEI (Defence Systems & Equipment International), opens in London on Tuesday.[1] Only last week UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told journalists in Beijing that the world “held a question mark” over China's human rights record. UK arms export rules prohibit arms exports to countries where they could be used for human rights abuse or to fuel conflict.

The list of official invitations to the MOD-organised arms fair was finally published on Sunday [2]. The government has previously refused campaigners' requests for the list to be published, citing 'security reasons'.

Campaigners, both from the local community and from across Europe, plan a series of mass demonstrations and direct action protests starting on Tuesday at the fair's venue, the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands. As the arms fair's organisers meet the press this morning (Monday), national campaigners, local government representatives and community members have convened their own press conference at 1.30 pm at St Anne's Church, Berwick Road, near the ExCeL Centre, to demand that the event be cancelled in 2007.[3] For directions, see

The government have also invited 7 countries from the UK Foreign Office's own list of the world's 20 top human rights abusers.[4] These include:

  • Indonesia: not invited since 1999 due to the ongoing conflicts in Aceh and Papua, where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented ongoing cases of “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property” by the Indonesian military in 2004-5, and the Foreign Office recently reported “army attacks on villagers in the Papuan highlands”.[5]
  • Colombia: where the UK Foreign Office reported in July that “members of the Colombian security forces collude with the paramilitaries and are involved in drug trafficking”, and the ongoing conflict has forced an estimated 3 million people from their homes.[6]
  • Saudi Arabia: the third-largest recipient of UK arms exports, where Amnesty International last year reported an escalation of "killings by security forces and armed groups...exacerbating the already dire human rights situation in the country."[7]

Libya (subject to an EU arms embargo until last year) and Iraq have also received invitations for the first time. This apparently goes against the policy of the United States, who are unwilling to heavily arm Iraq's military for fear of the weapons being used against US forces, it was reported two weeks ago.[8]

Anna Jones, Campaign Coordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said:

"The list of invited countries includes no individual delegates' names, so it cannot constitute a security risk as the MOD claim. Clearly the list is released at the last minute not for security, but for spin: to limit the government's embarrassment at organising an event that makes a mockery of European and UK arms control rules. As Tony Blair pushes for weapons trade controls at the UN World Summit this week, his defence ministers will be welcoming the world's arms dealers and human rights abusers to do business in London. If Blair is serious about controlling arms exports to conflict zones and human rights abusers, he should himself be calling for the event to be cancelled."


  1. For details of the EU arms embargo, which has seen several previous breaches, see DSEI is one of the world's largest arms fairs, involving over 1,100 companies promoting military products to around 70 military delegations and 20,000 'pre-qualified' visitors. It runs from 13-16 September at the ExCeL Centre. Activists and campaigners from across Europe will be protesting at DSEI throughout the week, aiming to stop the fair from returning in 2007. For details see our arms fairs pages and the Disarm DSEI website.
  2. For the MOD's full invitation list of 60 countries, see The event's co-organisers, Spearhead Ltd, also invite foreign government delegations, but have thus far refused to publish their invite list.
  3. For full details of events, see our events diary
  4. FCO Human Rights Annual Report (July 2005), Chapter 2, 'Major Countries of Concern'. See The seven countries on this list invited to DSEI are China, Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
  5. FCO Human Rights Annual Report 2005, pp. 56-7
  6. FCO Human Rights Annual Report 2005, p. 48
  7. Amnesty International Annual report 2005, p. 214
  8. Craig S. Smith, 'Big guns for Iraq? Not so fast', New York Times 28 Aug 2005
Page created 12 September 2005
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