World’s biggest arms fair in London likely infiltrated by criminals, judge rules

© Sarah Jane Brennan
It’s highly likely the world’s largest arms fair, held in London last year, was infiltrated by criminals, a district court judge has concluded. The ruling has forced MPs to probe allegations that arms sold in Britain are linked to torture and war crimes abroad.

Court proceedings against eight peace campaigners, who were arrested in the run-up to the 2015 DSEI (Defense & Security Equipment International) Arms Fair in London, came to a close Friday.

District Judge Angus Hamilton had heard evidence of UK complicity in the Turkish regime’s killing of Kurdish civilians, human rights violations in Bahrain and the escalation of war in Yemen.

Hamilton said it is highly likely DSEI 2015 was infiltrated by criminal activity.

“The court has been presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from three experts that criminal wrongdoing had occurred at past DSEI exhibitions involving the sale of arms to countries, which then used those arms against civilian populations,” he said.

The sale of military products, including cluster munitions and equipment used for torture and inappropriate restraint, was unquestionably illegal, Hamilton added.

The judge concluded there is a strong reason to believe such sales could have occurred at the 2015 DSEI arms exhibition.

‘Failure of system’ 

Amnesty International’s Program Director for Military Security and Police, Oliver Sprague, told RT a number of arms companies that make or distribute equipment that is unlawful to showcase at UK arms fairs attended DSEI 2015.

“These include items of torture equipment like leg irons and body restraints and electric shock stun guns or cluster munitions or their specialist components,” he said.

Sprague, who was denied access to DSEI 2015 as a human rights observer, sharply criticized UK government oversight of the weapons fair.

“It is a serious failure of the system, that despite having laws to prevent the advertising of illegal items, no government official tasked with monitoring the exhibition has ever identified a single company for doing this, despite numerous companies breaking the law at every DSEI from 2005 to 2015,” he said.

“It’s even more shocking, that even when companies are identified by third parties and thrown out of the fair for breaking the law by the organizers, not a single company has been prosecuted by the Government for doing this.”

Parliamentary probe 

Friday’s court case coincided with the launch of an inquiry by MPs tasked with monitoring government performance and policy on arms export controls.

The probe is conducted annually by Britain’s Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC).
A spokesperson for the group confirmed Monday that the probe would peripherally examine concerns raised during the case.

“It has come up and any illegality at arms fairs will be a part of the inquiry,” the spokesperson said.

“We are not explicitly focusing on it but we will look at it and will investigate it further.”

The peace campaigners who were arrested in the run-up to DSEI 2015 had launched a weeklong blockade to stop military wares being transferred into the weapons fair site. The defendants, who hailed from Britain, Belgium, Chile, Peru and Bahrain, were charged with “willful obstruction of the highway,” after blockading the entrance to the arms fair.

They vehemently denied the charges laid against them, saying they had launched the blockade to stop grave crimes from being committed in foreign states using arms sold in Britain.

“We were compelled to try to prevent war, repression, torture and genocide and we stand by our actions,” they said in a joint statement.

“We do not believe that we should have been on trial this week and denounce the UK government’s complicity and actions in supporting the arms trade; and in perpetuating war and repression around the world. We oppose the sale of arms based on corporate greed and profit and seek radical change.”

Throughout Friday’s proceedings, the court heard how Turkish authorities have declared more than 60 24/7 curfews on multiple Kurdish cities since last August, using gunmen, rockets and tanks to oppress civilians.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, while hundreds have died, according to human rights observers. The Turkish Exporters’ Association was an official partner at DSEI 2015, and had dutifully sent a military delegation along with government representatives to the arms fair.

The court also heard evidence of UK-manufactured arms being peddled to Saudi Arabia.

UK complicity

Military wares made in Britain have regularly been used in Saudi military attacks on Yemen, such as BAE Systems fighter jets and Raytheon’s Paveway bombs. Britain has also licensed £2.8 billion worth of arms to the Gulf state since its military onslaught on Yemen began.

Kat Hobbs, outreach coordinator at Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), was one of the expert witnesses who provided a testimony to the court. She said that arms destined for Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) had been redirected to the Saudi regime.

She also told the court that UK arms contracts to Bahrain had been worth £6 million prior to the 2011 Arab Spring, but have since rocketed to £45 million. She concluded the weapons had been deployed to suppress protesters from demanding democratic reforms in Bahrain.
Bahraini authorities were heavily criticized for using weapons against protesters in a bid to stamp out dissent during the Arab Spring. Nevertheless, delegates from the Gulf state were invited by the British government to DSEI fairs in 2013 and 2015.

'Unconvincing'

Angela Ditchfield, an anti-arms campaigner linked to Britain’s Stop the Arms Fair coalition, branded MPs’ promises to examine concerns raised during Friday’s proceedings unconvincing.

“It’s good that the morality of arms trading is being considered in this way, rather than ignored completely,” she said.

“But the lukewarm expressions of the committee are still shockingly weak in the light of the atrocities we highlighted in our trial.”

Her view was echoed by UK activist with Disarm DSEI Susannah Mengesha, who told RT the planned parliamentary scrutiny would amount to little action on the ground.

“This week, the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls has responded to the trial by promising to look at the legality of DSEI and how it fits in with the Arms Trade Treaty,” she said.

“We are aware that this usually results in a lot of rhetoric and cosmetic changes, but the arms sales to human rights abusers will continue. Many of us are wary of the prospect of the government investigating itself.”

Sarah Jane Brennan, RT

@sarahjanebren