Ekklesia | 07.09.2005 05:56
As local government, London Mayor Ken Livingstone and even the Metropolitan Police speak out against Europe's largest arms fair, to be held in London's Docklands from 13-16 September, Christians and others are gearing up for a week of protests and events during the fair.
Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEi), at London's ExCel Centre, will see Defence Ministers John Reid and Lord Drayson welcome arms dealers and buyers from human-rights abusing regimes and conflict zones.
According to organisers, DSEi is 'the world's largest and fastest growing tri-service defence exhibition' and is to be 30% bigger than in previous years. It is organised in association with the government's Defence Export Services Organisation.
The government provides financial assistance, commercial weapons demonstrations by British Army personnel, and political support through sales promotion by defence ministers.
The UK Ministry of Defence have regularly invited the governments of some of the world's worst human rights-abusing regimes to meet arms dealers at DSEi, including (in 2003) Colombia, Israel, China, Syria and Saudi Arabia. But the MOD refuse to release 2005's invitee list until 2-3 days before the event.
Previous DSEi fairs have seen numerous breaches of arms control law. When at least 9 exhibitors broke arms export and import licensing rules in 2003, the Daily Mirror reported that ministerial instructions were issued to the Metropolitan Police not to pursue prosecutions. In 1999 journalists found two companies illegally offering landmines for sale.
But CAAT, and its Christian section Christian Campaign Against Arms Trade, have published a comprehensive new report, 'DSEi Arms Fair 2005: The global arms trade comes to London'.
The report provides journalists with a complete alternative event brochure. It previews the weapons sellers and possible buyers, and gives pointers to potential breaches of arms control laws at the forthcoming arms fair.
CAAT Campaigns Coordinator Anna Jones called upon DSEi's organisers the Ministry of Defence and publishing giant Reed Elsevier, and event venue the ExCel Centre, to make this year's arms fair the last.
“Every stop on the global arms trade circuit expects local people to roll over when the arms dealers come to town. In London this isn't happening. The Ministry of Defence and DSEi's organisers cannot continue to ignore an unprecedented groundswell of opposition to the arms fair, not just from campaigners, but from Londoners, local government and the police. If with all this DSEi isn't cancelled in 2007, it will appear that the government is in the service of arms companies rather than voters” she said.
Timeline: Londoners say no to arms dealing
19 June: Newham Borough Council passes unanimous motion demanding that DSEi not be held in Newham in the future, and calling the biennial arms fair “immoral, providing opportunity for some of the world's most dictatorial and regressive regimes to come to Newham to buy weaponry that may be used against their own people”. Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales tells local press that “I oppose the arms fair being held in Newham. I always have and I always will. My priority will be ensuring that the people of this borough do not suffer because of it.”
22 June: London Mayor Ken Livingstone publicly states that “it is wrong for police resources to be diverted to this event and a travesty that the cost should be borne by Londoners and not the event organisers. Such events are a disgrace and ought to be denounced by all Londoners.”
21 August: Assistant Commissioner Steve House, head of the Metropolitan Police's central operations, tells The Independent that DSEi “is denuding London of policing at a time of unprecedented demand. The defence industry makes huge profits. I think we should be getting some money from the people exhibiting inside the centre. At the moment the taxpayers are having to pay. I don't think it looks right or is right."
A week of protest
Click here for timings and locations of protests and events. Other groups may also announce events during the week.
Thursday 8 September: 'Stand Up Against the Arms Fair'. Stewart Lee, Felix Dexter and 6 other leading UK comedians perform in aid of arms trade campaigners.
Saturday 10 September: Musical protest at ExCel Centre, organised by East London Against the Arms Fair
Sunday 11 September: CAAT Alternative Conference – workshops, talks & films
Monday 12 September: Silent candle-lit vigil to ExCel Centre, organsed for victims of the arms trade by East London churches.
Monday 12 September: 1.30pm - Press Conference (details above)
Tuesday 13 September (DSEi arms fair opens): 12 noon - Mass peaceful demonstration from East Ham Central Park to the ExCel Centre. Hundreds of protestors are expected from across the UK and beyond.
Wednesday 14 September: 'Critical mass' bike-ride, East London