Human Rights Groups Protest As Arms Fair Returns To London

Europe’s largest arms fair – the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair (DSEI) – is set to begin in London on Tuesday. Over 35,000 delegates and traders are expected to arrive at the trade show, which occurs once every 2 years. The event has become a focus for many human rights campaigning groups, with at least 116 demonstrators already arrested ahead of this year’s show. The event sees arms manufacturers market their ware to international delegations – including Saudi Arabia and Israel – which proves incredibly controversial as this equipment can then be, and often is, used in acts of unfounded violence against persons. This can be seen specifically in the case of Saudi Arabia, whose delegates were invited to the arms fair by the British Government whilst the country continued to bomb Yemen. A court case has even ruled that the sale of weapons to be used in this conflict is unlawful.

Activists dropped a banner outside the building hosting the event yesterday, reading, ‘state sanctioned terrorism.’ One of the activists spoke further, saying: “DSEI is a place for ministers and delegates to rub shoulders and sip champagne whilst perusing the latest in high-tech arms and weaponry. This banner has been created and dropped to shine light on the U.K. government’s complicity with the arms trade and continuing sales to oppressive regimes and known human rights abusers. Through hosting DSEI our government is culpable for the killing and suffering of innocent civilians worldwide; State sanctioned terrorism.”

As the event pushes forward and outrage grows, London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke too in opposition to the event. He said: “I too strongly oppose this event taking place in London. London is a global city, which is home to individuals who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence of arms and weapons like those exhibited at DSEI.”

Whilst not in direct response to protestors, Fleur Thomas – head of exports for the Ministry of Defence – spoke of the significance of the event for the U.K.: “Whatever the next few days or weeks or months may bring, the future for our defence sector is a very bright one.”

The anger and objections around the arms fair seem entirely justifiable; to profit off, glamorise and promote the sale of weapons to fuel humanitarian disasters, oppressive regimes and innocent deaths is abhorrent. The biggest sellers at the fair cement that it is doing just this, with its most popular items being bombers, drones and vanity warships. The U.K. government’s response, in justifying such a fair to be good for the ‘sector’ and subsequent employment, is a weak one. Putting aside the fact that the creation of jobs fails to justify complicity with violence, only around 50,000 U.K. jobs are dependent on arms exports – 0.2% of the British workforce.

The arms fair occurring in London is an inexcusable and shameful event that should not be repeated again. The protestors are right to draw attention to the abhorrence of the DSEI and the human rights abuses it can help to exacerbate. We must call on U.K. ministers to withdraw their support for such an event, and call on members of oppositional parties and the public to pressure them to do so.

Rosie Latchford

A recent politics graduate from the University of Manchester with a specific interest in environmental politics.
Rosie Latchford