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11 Sep, 2017 10:17

‘Weapons for tyrants’: UK blasted for inviting human rights abusers to arms trade fair

‘Weapons for tyrants’: UK blasted for inviting human rights abusers to arms trade fair

Britain’s biggest arms fair starts Tuesday, and will play host to several countries labelled human rights abusers by the UK Foreign Office.

The full list of the 56 countries which received official invitations to the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition (DSEI) was released by the Department for International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation in response to a parliamentary question.

Among them are Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – all named ‘Human Rights Priorities Countries’ in the 2016 Foreign and Commonwealth Report published last July.

Others accused of human rights violations on the guestlist include the Philippines, Indonesia, Qatar, UAE and Turkey.

The arms fair – which is described as the world’s leading defense and security exhibition –  takes place at the ExCel Centre, London, from September 12 to 15.

Some 1600 exhibitors including BAE Systems, Thales, Rolls Royce, General Dynamics, Israel Defence, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will display products at the event.

Keynote speeches will be made by Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, among others.

READ MORE: Arms giant BAE sold powerful mass surveillance equipment to oppressive regimes – report

The UK remains the second largest global defence exporter, winning defence orders worth a total of £5.9 billion ($7.78 billion) in 2016, according to government statistics published last July. Some 57 percent of total UK defence exports between 2007 and 2016 were sold to the Middle East.

Campaign Against Arms Trade  members have been leading protests outside the venue since Monday, September 4. The week of blockades is intended to highlight the “deadly consequences of the arms trade.”

“This list includes a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. They will be greeted by civil servants and Government Ministers who are there for one reason only: to promote weapons. It's impossible to promote human rights and democracy while arming and supporting authoritarian regimes and tyrants,” Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said.

A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade told RT that the “government undertakes a stringent process of scrutiny and approval before issuing any invitations to foreign governments to attend a major UK defence exhibition like DSEI.”

“Respect for human rights is a mandatory consideration in the process and a country would not be invited where that would contradict the UK's international obligations. Invitations are reviewed if the situation in any one country changes.”

London’s Met Police told RT that 102 arrests had been made since protests began last Monday. Arrests were for a variety of offences, the majority, however, were for obstruction of the highway, according to a police spokesperson. No information is yet available on any possible charges.

Last year a court dismissed charges against eight protesters who blocked the road outside the DSEI in 2015 after the judge stated the defence had presented clear and credible evidence that illegal activity had taken place at the event in previous years.

He also said police arresting the activists had failed to investigate to ensure it was not happening again.

A spokesperson for the DSEI told the Guardian at the time that compliance regulations were not breached at the 2015 fair.

RT has reached out to DSEI for comment on procedures in place to combat potential illegal activity at this year’s event. The compliance section of the DSEI website states that all exhibitors are subject to the UK Export Control Act 2002 and the Export Control Order 2008.

It also outlines goods banned from the exhibition; these include those designed for executions, those banned by the EU because of evidence of their use in torture, landmines and certain cluster munitions.