Home Office protest targets ‘secret arms fair’ & human rights abusers

© Stefan Wermuth
Campaigners have held a demonstration outside the Home Office to highlight Britain’s ‘secret arms fair’ currently taking place in Farnborough, where delegates from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt can buy crowd-control weaponry.

Stop the Arms Fair, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Global Justice Now joined other groups to protest outside the government department on Wednesday afternoon and held a candlelight vigil in tribute to victims of state repression.

‘Security and Policing 2016’ is a three-day event ending on March 10 which sees some of the world’s biggest arms companies mingle with military and police delegations from around the world.

Several of these delegates have been accused of human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Israel, Qatar, Turkey, Algeria and Egypt.

According to the Facebook page for the protest, campaigners heard a speech by a Bahraini survivor of torture and detention during the demonstration.

The arms fair is organized by the UK Trade and Investment Defense and Security Organization (UKTI DSO), the civil service body tasked with promoting British arms abroad.

A brochure for the event boasts that it offers opportunities to “showcase cutting edge technologies” and “provides access” to government officials in security, while stating that over 7,400 people attended the event last year.

Some 360 arms and security companies are attending the gathering, according to the website. These include arms manufacturers BAE Systems, Babcock International and Finmeccanica, in addition to surveillance companies such as Gamma Group and The Hacking Team.

Andrew Smith of the CAAT said many of the governments attending the event as customers are linked to human rights abuses.

The government is always talking about human rights and democracy and telling us how ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ its arms export criteria is, but nothing could be further from the truth.

A large number of the police forces and military delegations in attendance have been accused of torture, arbitrary detention and other terrible human rights abuses.

He added: “Civil servants and arms dealers will be using Security and Policing as a chance to promote arms sales to human rights abusers and dictatorships like Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is yet another reminder that the government is not just an observer in the global arms trade, it is an active participant.”