Arms company bosses, military and government representatives were hoping for a convivial evening when they arrived at the official reception for the Farnborough International arms fair at the Natural History Museum on 9 July. Instead, they met spirited public opposition from anti-arms trade activists before and during the reception.
On the afternoon of Sunday 8 July, protesters displayed a banner No arms deals here directly above the central hall where the reception was to be held.
The protest on 9 July began in the afternoon when supporters of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) mounted a lively demonstration complete with a giant dinosaur, accompanied by a colourful brood of other prehistoric creatures - a tribute to Dippy, the famous dinosaur skeleton which graces the central hall where the reception was to take place. Placards played on the Natural History Museum's role in researching and preserving prehistoric life forms with slogans such as Ammonites not Ammunition, Paleontology not War Technology and Let's make the arms trade extinct!
Activists handed out leaflets to museum visitors. Many said that they were shocked that a public educational institution would hire their premises to the arms industry.
As the museum prepared to close, CAAT delivered a letter from eminent scientists addressed to museum director, Dr Michael Dixon, condemning the decision to host the reception and urging that the museum sever all links with the arms trade. The signatories include Professor Steve Jones of University College London, Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet and Professor Mark Baxter of the University of Edinburgh. Over 1,600 people had earlier contacted the director asking him to reconsider.
Later campaigners from Stop the Arms Fair Coalition greeted arms trade guests with boos and jeers. Invitations to the reception had been issued to representatives of repressive regimes and the world's top arms companies, including the principal arms supplier to the Syrian government, Rosoboronexport. Business Secretary Vince Cable was scheduled to attend - the UK government issues invitations to the military delegations to Farnborough.
CAAT Campaigner Sarah Waldron said:
The Natural History Museum's mission is to inspire better care of our planet. Support for events which promote the arms trade are not compatible with that mission. We hope that the museum will realise their error in hosting this event and will take firm steps to end the Museum's association with the arms trade.
For more information contact CAAT's Media Coordinator Kaye Stearman at media(at)caat.·org·uk or ring the CAAT office on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232.
- Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems Around 75% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.
- The reception was held at the Natural History Museum from 7-9pm on Monday 9 July. Farnborough International's organisers describe the reception as "THE most important event during the Farnborough week, exclusively attended by key industry senior level figures, international delegations and exhibitors ... a must attend event and an unparalleled networking opportunity."
- The director of the Natural History Museum, Dr Michael Dixon, has stated that for the Museum the event is simply a commercial transaction, not "an expression of support" for the arms industry. He was not available to receive the letter presented by CAAT although CAAT was assured that he would receive it.
- Farnborough International is best known for its airshow, but the main business is its combined arms and aerospace trade show, which brings together the world's top arms companies and military buyers. Attendees at the previous Farnborough International in 2010 included military delegations from Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia - all countries with records of serious human rights abuses. Furthermore, Bahrain and Libya both turned weapons on their own people within seven months of the Farnborough event. Nine of the largest ten arms companies will be present at Farnborough International 2012, including BAE Systems and Finmeccanica.
- This type of infiltration of the UK's public institutions by the arms trade is not unique. The National Gallery accepts £30,000 a year from Italian arms giant Finmeccania. In September 2011 it hosted a drinks reception for delegates to Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI), amid protests in and outside the gallery. Recently pressure from the Bath Stop the War Coalition made the Bath and North East Somerset Council reconsider allowing DSEI orgenaisers Clarion Events to host a drones conference at Bath’s prestigious Assembly Rooms.