by Rosie Alfatlawi
As London redies itself for the arrival of military representatives from some of the Middle East’s most despotic and violent regimes, it seems that the UK capital has become a temporary battlefield in the fight for lives in the region.
The biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is a four-day arms fair taking place in the east of the city, beginning September 12.
Officials from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt are reportedly expected to be among 34,000 attending the self-styled “world leading event” for buying weapons.
They will be joined by 1,600 arms dealers.
But the event will not be allowed to go smoothly if protesters have anything to do with it.
Activists from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and London Palestine Action, among others, set up on Monday for a planned “week of action” to resist the set-up of the fair.
Protesters plan to impede the delivery of weaponry and military equipment through blockades and demonstrations.
On Monday demonstrators kicked off the week by setting up blockades to prevent access to the site.
The Sandcat is going nowhere soon pic.twitter.com/onedpF708t— Stop The Arms Fair! (@StopTheArmsFair) September 4, 2017
A Sandcat is a kind of armored vehicle produced by Israeli manufacturer Plasan.
However, Middle East Eye (MEE) reports that protesters were removed by police, and German video news agency Ruptly shared footage of demonstrators being arrested.
Still, the detained activists have the law on their side after nine anti-DSEI protesters last year successfully fought for their charges relating to blocking access to the fair to be cleared. They were found not guilty after arguing that their actions had prevented greater crimes being committed using the weapons on sale.
Why are dozens of Brits giving up their time and risking prosecution to protest the fair?
Not only are many of the Middle Eastern countries expected to be represented accused of human rights abuses against their own people. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for instance, have carried out violent crackdowns on dissent, with the former most recently targeting its Shia minority in the Qatif region.
Moreover, the Saudi-led coalition - which includes the UAE, Bahrain and, until recently, Qatar - has been accused by rights groups of “serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” in its two-year war in Yemen.
These include indiscriminate bombing, airstrikes targeting civilians and attacks on infrastructure.
A UN draft report last month found that at least 349 children had been killed by the coalition in 2016.
- Saudi-led Coalition Killed 349 Children in Yemen Last Year, Says UN Report
- The War Zone in Saudi Arabia: Tweets from the Besieged Town of Al-Awamiya
Yet, despite repeated claims that British-made weapons are being used to target civilians in Yemen, the UK’s government continues to turn a blind eye.
In late 2016, four British ministers issued a statement rejecting calls to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite two parliamentary committees recommending their halt.
In July this year, CAAT demanded the judicial review of the British government’s decision to carry on granting licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
The High Court ruled that the Saudi-led coalition does not deliberately target civilians and properly investigates civilian casualties, despite rights groups claiming the contrary.
The reason is not difficult to deduce. As of November last year, the UK had profited £3.3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of its Yemen campaign in March 2015.
- The British government refuses calls to suspend arms sales to Saudi forces bombarding Yemen
- Update: Top UK Court Rules Arms Sales to Saudi ‘Legal’
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has said of the fair: “DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.
“Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in? War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI. It’s time to shut it down for good,” Smith continued according to The Guardian.
Still unabashed, Britain’s defence and international trade ministers, as well military chiefs of staff, will be in attendance at next week’s fair, according to The Guardian.
Away from concerns over the war in Yemen, new figures released by CAAT reveal the £140m (approx. $181m) of weapons which had been licensed by the UK to Israel since its 2014 bombardment of Gaza.
According to UNHCR, 1,462 civilians were killed in that campaign.
Still, MEE reports, Israeli weapons manufacturers will be showcasing their “battle-tested” weapons at the upcoming DSEI fair.
Leila White, a spokesperson for London Palestine Action which is taking part in demonstrations this week, said according to MEE:
"The whole week will see us protest against militarisation, and for the collective liberation of all peoples enduring apartheid, occupation and the unaccountability of governments around the world, which should stop arming regimes – of which Israel is a key example - immediately.”
A second day of protests is underway today, Tuesday, with more arrests reported. The activists have scheduled a program of demonstrations for the week, with each day having a different focus including nuclear weapons and arming Israel.
According to tweets by the “Stop the Arms Fair” account, protesters were “locking on” to the ground, forcing police to use tools to remove them. Meanwhile, fake coffins were put out, showing images of children killed by some of the countries in attendance.
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