UK government under fire for inviting ‘war crime’ states to arms fair

The UK government has been condemned for inviting regimes accused of killing children to an arms fair dubbed a “festival of violence” that cost taxpayers nearly £1 million to police.

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Israel have been invited to Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), one of the world’s largest arms events which is due to be held in London in September.

DSEI is a bi-annual event that brings together more than 1,500 exhibitors and arms dealers with military delegations from around the world invited by the UK government.

The event facilitates arms sales of everything from rifles and tanks, to fighter jets and battleships. DSEI describes itself as “the world leading event that connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the global defence and security supply chain on an unrivalled scale”.

DSEI is organised by Clarion Events and supported by the Ministry of Defence and Department of International Trade. Ahead of this years’ event, arms trade campaigners have argued that it is immoral and should be scrapped – and highlighted how much it costs taxpayers to police the fair.

United Arab Emirates is listed as an official partner of the UK government for DSEI 2019 and Saudi Arabia has been invited despite UK arms sales to the kingdom having recently been ruled unlawful. Both nations are part of a coalition fighting in Yemen which has been accused of multiple war crimes.

Court rules UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful

Both countries were named by the UN in August along with Israel and a number of other states and terror groups, in a report revealing that more than 24,000 grave violations were committed against children last year. The UK government was accused of having “blood on its hands” for selling arms to some of countries named by the UN.

A delegation from Hong Kong has also been invited by the British government despite a promise in June by the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to halt exports of tear gas to the crisis-hit territory.

DSEI has previously attracted protests. Two years ago, 108 people were arrested and demonstrations are planned when the event takes place over four days from 10 to 13 September.

A freedom of information reply from the Metropolitan Police revealed that it cost at least £977,834 to police DSEI 2017. The operation involved the deployment of 2,810 police officers, 440 vehicles and six mounted officers.

The costs were met by the Met Police, which is a public body funded by the taxpayer. The total in 2017 did not include any costs incurred by the Ministry of Defence Police and British Transport Police.

The UK government invites official delegations to attend DSEI and 56 were invited in 2017 including representatives of Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey and Colombia, also states with poor human rights records.

The full guest list for DSEI 2019 was published in July which also included Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Pakistan and Uzbekistan – all identified by the Foreign Office as having human rights issues.

Speakers include AEI Saudi, a business consultancy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It will advise arms dealers how to secure business contracts in Saudi Arabia, despite UK arms sales being ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

AEI Saudi’s talk is called “Crossing the Gulf” with a statement on the DSEI 2019 website saying: “Defence expenditure across the GCC is expected to hit $100bn this year, with the majority of spending coming from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“This talk will detail the opportunities for foreign companies looking to enter some of the largest accessible defence markets in the world, while also providing much-needed advice and guidance on the pitfalls and challenges of doing business in the region.

“AEI Saudi, based in Riyadh, is the exclusive partner of the Department for International Trade and the US State of Virginia for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Exhibitors at DSEI 2019 include the state of Israel. SIBAT, an agency of the Israel Ministry of Defence, has a statement on the event’s website.

“SIBAT, the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of the Israel MoD, is positioned within the MoD, while having a close, ongoing relationship with Israel’s defence industry,” it says.

“This ensures that SIBAT maintains in-depth and updated knowledge of the defence world’s concepts, as well as a clear understanding of the Israel Defence Forces operational needs.”

Campaigners from both Edinburgh and Glasgow are planning to attend protests at DSEI 2019. A spokesperson for Campaign Against the Arms Trade in Edinburgh said: “If half as much was actually spent policing the arms fair itself, as was spent on monitoring peaceful protestors, we wouldn’t be the only ones calling for DSEI to be shut down.

“Sales to Saudi Arabia have now been ruled illegal, but their government will be at DSEI, browsing lethal weaponry by invitation of the UK. Peaceful protest at the event will no doubt be met with mass arrests again this September, whilst the government continues to act above the law with impunity.”

Ross Greer MSP, Scottish Green external affairs spokesman, said: “Even after a humiliating defeat in court over their unlawful arms sales to the Saudi dictatorship, the UK government has invited them to the world’s premier showcase for death and destruction.

“Those traders who make an obscene profit from the slaughter of children from Yemen to Ukraine will need high levels of security, and of course it will be the public who pick up the bill for that.”

The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) condemned the country’s official partnering of DSEI. “Not only do the Emirati regime routinely lock up their dissents and suppress freedom of speech at home,” the ICFUA said.

“But through a relentless bombing campaign in Yemen, they have played a central role in creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – armed and backed every step of the way by the British state.

“Protesting at this year’s DSEI, ICFUAE will be calling for an immediate arms embargo on the United Arab Emirates, and for all future trade deals with the state to be conditional upon an adherence to international human rights legislation.”

Mick Napier, of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “Sizeable protests persuaded Glasgow City Council to host no further arms fairs and the Scottish Government called during the 2014 Gaza massacre for an arms embargo against the state of Israel.

“It will shock many but surprise few that this government is going to such extraordinary lengths to protect arms companies, many of which finance the Conservative Party.”

Export licence system lets ‘illegal’ arms sales to Saudi Arabia continue

The UK government said that the Court of Appeal ruling on UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia was “not about whether we have made the right or wrong decisions about granting export licences, but whether the process used to reach those decisions was correct.”

A government spokesperson added: “We take our arms export responsibilities extremely seriously and operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.”

A spokesperson for DSEI said: “The organisers of DSEI cover, in full, all costs related to policing within the exhibition site. The policing of public areas outside the ExCeL site, including of activities organised by third parties, is the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police. The UK government is responsible for inviting official overseas delegations to DSEI.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “The Metropolitan Police Service proportionately responds to any protest activity, balancing the rights of those protesting, with the rights of others to go about their normal business unaffected.

“While we will always aim to work with organisers to facilitate peaceful protests, we also have a duty to minimise disruption so that other members of the public and local community can go about their day to day lives.”

Freedom of information response from the Metropolitan Police

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