West News Wire: The 2021 edition of London’s controversial arms fair – known as Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), one of the biggest in the world – was officially open for business amid Covid-19.
Exhibitors selling everything from torpedos to tanks, ejector seats to bandages, helicopters to rifle sights, filled two vast halls on Tuesday, at the Thames-side Excel conference centre in east London, for the start of a four-day show exhibiting weapons and military technology that has long been the subject of controversy and protest.
There were delegations from 68 countries, all invited by the British government to attend. They included representatives from eight governments that feature on the British government’s own human rights watch list: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
Members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which continues to bomb Yemen were in attendance. The arms fair’s guest list, one campaigner against the arms trade suggests, “reads like a who’s who of despots, dictators and human rights abusers”.
Seven of the invitees, meanwhile, have military sectors at “critical” risk of corruption, according to Transparency International. These include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq, again, as well as Morocco, Oman and Qatar.
For Dr Samuel Perlo-Freeman of Campaign Against Arms Trade, the list of countries invited shows the UK government is “not serious about arms export controls, or global peace, human rights, or good governance”.
“The arms deals sealed at DSEI will make the world a more dangerous place,” he told Middle East Eye.
The event, which is run by a company called Clarion Events Ltd and the British government’s own arms export promotion unit, is a target for protesters and rights groups who oppose the arms trade, particularly to countries with a history of human rights abuses.
Many of the exhibitors sell weapons to Israel, which has committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians on multiple occasions; as well as Saudi Arabia, which led a coalition of countries into a devastating war in Yemen, now home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has so far displaced at least four million people and killed more than 233,000.
The UN, which says Yemen is stuck in an “indefinite state of war”, published a report last week that noted that states including the UK, France and the US were continuing “their support of parties to the conflict, including through arms transfers,” adding, “arms sales are fuel that perpetuates the conflict”.
Companies were found to be selling banned leg restraints at the DSEI fair in 2007, and then again in 2011, the same year that two exhibitors were thrown out for promoting cluster munitions.