Today, Tuesday 1 March, a group of anti-arms trade activists succeeded in blocking access to the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) for over an hour in protest at the UK's arms exports to Libya.
They demanded a fundamental shift in the UK's approach to arms sales: an end to the government promotion of arms exports and no more sales to repressive regimes and areas in conflict. A samba band played, while one of the protesters scaled the entrance to BIS to hang a banner above the entrance.
The protest took place in response to the news that British weapons have been turned on pro-democracy protesters in Libya. BIS is the department which granted licences which allowed crowd control equipment, tear gas and armoured vehicles to be exported to Gaddafi's repressive regime. UKTI DSO is the government's arms promotion unit, which designated Libya a "priority market"; co-ordinated "high-level political interventions" for arms sales; and supported the large British presence at the Libdex arms fair in November 2010.
Anne-Marie O'Reilly, Outreach Co-ordinator at CAAT commented:
The government likes to claim that it has a responsible and rigorous approach to arms exports. But it made Gaddafi's regime a "priority market" and British weapons were turned on pro-democracy protesters in the last week. Revoking some export licences is too little, too late: such licences should never have been granted in the first place.
One of the activists present at the demo added:
We're here in solidarity with those demanding democracy across the Middle East and North Africa. British arms companies profit from propping up dictators and repressive regimes but this has to end.
For further information or an interview please contact CAAT's Outreach Coordinator, Anne-Marie O'Reilly on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email outreach(at)caat·org·uk . Photos are available from CAAT Flickr site
- Photos of the action are available on CAAT's flickr page.
- The police issued a warning to government departments to be vigilant for protesters following the demonstrations this morning.
- Libya is classed as authoritarian regime according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy 2008.
- In the third quarter of 2010 (the most recent period for which figures are available), equipment approved for export to Libya included wall and door breaching projectile launchers, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition, training tear gas/irritant ammunition. Ammunition comprised £3.2m of the £4.7m million of military items licensed in this quarter. Sniper rifles were among the other equipment licensed in 2010. No requests for licences were refused in 2010.
- UK Trade and Investment has approximately 130 staff to support 34 industry sectors. In 2008, it opened the Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) to promote arms exports. UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms. Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, has said: There will be a very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment to (arms sales). There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this Government. Foreign Secretary William Hague has also been upfront about his involvement in promoting BAE products to the rest of the world.
- In November 2010 more than half of the exhibitors at the Libyan Defence & Security Exhibition (LibDex), billed as an opportunity for international manufacturers to network with “all bodies involved in the defence and security industry in Libya and North Africa”, were UK companies.
- The International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the largest defence and security event in the Middle East and North African region, took place from 20-24 February, in Abu Dhabi, UAE. UK Trade organisation Aerospace|Defence|Security attended to "continue its promotion of the UK defence and security industry's interests in the UAE and Middle East." Gerald Howarth, a defence minister was in attendance.
- Prime Minister David Cameron toured the region last week, accompanied by eight high-level arms trade representatives.