Arms Unfair

In today’s world of contradictions we do not need a steady reminder of such double standards. The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) last week revealed that it invited China, subject to an EU arms embargo, to shop for weapons at Europe’s largest arms fair known as: Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi). The fair opened at London’s Excel centre on Tuesday 13th September. Amazingly and with a sign that there is some hope, during weekending 9th September, Prime Minister Tony Blair told journalists in Beijing that the world ‘held a question mark’ over China’s human rights record. It is important to note that UK arms export rules prohibit arms exports to countries where they could be used for human rights abuse or to fuel conflict.

The list of official invitations to the MOD-organised arms fair was finally published on Sunday 11th September The government has previously refused campaigners’ requests for the list to be published, citing ‘security reasons’.

The government also invited 7 countries from the UK Foreign Office’s own list of the world’s 20 top human rights abusers.

These include:
• Indonesia: not invited since 1999 due to the ongoing conflicts in Aceh and Papua, where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented ongoing cases of ‘extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property’ by the Indonesian military in 2004-5, and the Foreign Office recently reported ‘army attacks on villagers in the Papuan highlands’

• Colombia: where the UK Foreign Office reported in July that ‘members of the Colombian security forces collude with the paramilitaries and are involved in drug trafficking’, and the ongoing conflict has forced an estimated 3 million people from their homes.

• Saudi Arabia: the third-largest recipient of UK arms exports, where Amnesty International last year reported an escalation of ‘killings by security forces and armed groups…’

Libya (subject to an EU arms embargo until last year) and Iraq have also received invitations for the first time. This apparently goes against the policy of the United States, who are unwilling to heavily arm Iraq’s military for fear of the weapons being used against US forces.

What is the point of European and UK arms control rules if such trade fairs are allowed to take place. Is it not another case of trade and finance taking priority over human suffering? Ironically, Tony Blair will be pushing for weapons trade controls at the UN World Summit but unfortunately his defence ministers would have already welcomed the world’s arms dealers and human rights abusers to do business!

DSEi organisers, Spearhead Spokesperson suggested the following: ‘It is like any other trade exhibition. It is like the motor show in Birmingham or exhibitions at Earls Court. This happens to be for the defence industry.’

Hey! We all know that cars can kill and can damage the environment but I’m sure you will agree that Apache fighter jets, landmines and cluster bombs are lethal and more harmful to civilians. In a world of double standards we should expect a stronger commitment to human rights from our leaders. Not a backhand policy of supporting such abuse?

Categories: 2005

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