Countries involved in conflict or internal suppression or with a record of human rights abuse have been invited to the London arms fair by the UK government. The list of invited countries was released after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government body responsible for inviting delegates.
Of the 53 countries, plus the United Nations (UN), who have been invited to attend Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEI) in September, at least 15 have serious conflict and human rights concerns or urgent development needs. They are: Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam.
Among invited countries, CAAT draws attention to the following:
Middle East - Saudi Arabia One of the major markets for UK weapons, especially through the notorious Al Yamamah and Salam Project deals with BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms company. In December 2006 the UK Serious Fraud Office announced that it was dropping its investigation into corruption allegations around Al Yamamah after direct pressure on the UK government by the Saudi government, a decision challenged by CAAT through a judicial review. Saudi Arabia is a secretive regime with a documented record of torture and human rights abuse.
Latin America - Colombia With its record of violent internal insurgency and suppression, by military, paramilitary and police forces, against political opponents and indigenous peoples, Colombia is already awash with weapons. Human rights organisations have recorded widespread detention and torture.
South Asia - India and Pakistan A major international flashpoint, these two countries have large standing armies, are heavily armed and are nuclear powers. India and Pakistan have a history of conflict, and tensions remain high. Both are involved in internal conflicts. There have been well attested accounts of basic human rights violations, including unfair trials and torture. High military spending has diverted funds away from much needed development in the sectors of health, food security, water and sanitation.
Africa - Angola Recently emerging from a long civil war and facing years of reconstruction, funds spent on weapons are a diversion from development needs, including health, education and housing.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 records five "major countries of concern" who have been invited to DSEI; Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
CAAT spokesperson Kaye Stearman said:
The invitation list is revealing because it shows that the UK government, whether represented by UKTI DSO or the Ministry of Defence, seems happy to invite countries who are involved conflicts or have appalling human rights records, as documented by the FCO's own Human Rights report. On paper they don't even meet the UK government's own standard for arms export licences - nevertheless they are invited to an arms fair and receive approval to acquire even more weapons.
For further comment please contact CAAT's Press Co-ordinator on 020 7281 0297 or 07990 673 232 or email media(at)caat·org·uk.
1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade together with progressive demilitarisation within arms producing countries. 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters' donations and CAAT is strictly nonviolent in all its work.
2. Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEI) has been held every two years since 2001 at the ExCeL centre in Newham, east London. This year it is scheduled to run 8-11 September 2009. Every year there have been high-profile protests against it.
3. DSEI is made possible by support given by United Kingdom Trade & Investment's Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), a government department that provides support for arms companies in their export-related activities. This includes promoting weapons sales worldwide, including to countries in conflict and regimes with a documented record of human rights abuse.
4. The full list of countries invited to DSEI by the UK Government is as follows: Algeria, Angola, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, USA, Vietnam, plus the United Nations (UN).
5. DSEI is owned and run By Clarion Events, a private equity company, which also owns several other arms fairs. The list of countries invited by Clarion Events has not been made available to CAAT.
6. CAAT is organising peaceful protests against DSEI before and during the arms fair. This will include events at the ExCeL centre in Docklands and UKTI Headquarters in Westminster on Tuesday 8 September, DSEI opening day. For more information see www.caat.org.uk