The Department for International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation (DIT DSO) attended Bahrain’s very first all-purpose arms fair between 16 and 18 October. And this country’s horrendous record of abuses will have many UK taxpayers hopping mad.
How taxpayers’ money is used
British company Clarion Events organised the Bahrain International Defence Exhibition and Conference (BIDEC) 2017. Clarion Events previously organised the Defence and Security Equipment International conference in London as well.
DIT DSO was also in Bahrain to support 17 other British companies like BAE Systems and Motorola Solutions which were on the exhibitor list.
According to the conference website, visitors would be able not only to speak to exhibitors but also to meet “influential decision makers from within the international defence community”, including defence and security ministers and military personnel.
UK support for abusive regimes?
Campaigners argued that UK involvement in Bahrain’s conference was problematic. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said:
The UK’s promotion of arms exports at BIDEC will be seen as a show of support for the Bahraini regime. As well as jailing and torturing human rights and pro-democracy activists, the government of Bahrain is part of the coalition currently bombarding Yemen, leaving millions of Yemenis on the edge of starvation and at risk of cholera.
The UK public do not want our taxes to be spent promoting weapons sales to Bahrain and the other human-rights abusing regimes attending BIDEC.
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The war on dissent in Bahrain
Bahrain’s dictatorship has come under fire from both Bahraini organisations and international NGOs like Amnesty International. In September, for instance, Amnesty condemned the government for a year-long campaign against free speech using various tools of repression.
In the same month, Bahraini human rights organisations submitted 13 reports to the 36th session of the Human Rights Council. And now, the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights has noted an increase in enforced disappearances.
Standing with tyranny regardless
Despite these concerns, the UK government continues relations with Bahrain in the form of trade. And it justifies this relationship by claiming it is helping the country to reform at the same time. Theresa May has previously argued, for example, that:
We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.
Middle East Eye also recently asked the UK government to comment. And speaking about whether it takes a country’s human rights record into account before organising or attending an event abroad, a DIT DSO spokesperson said:
I can confirm that DITDSO takes a number of factors into account before deciding to exhibit at overseas exhibitions.
Our aim is to support the UK’s defence and security industries in our overseas markets. You will be aware that the UK has one of the most stringent export licence criteria.
The DIT and the Export Control Organisation published the latest data on export licences on 17 October. It shows that, between the third quarter of 2010 (the first full quarter since the coalition government came into power) and 30 June 2017, the government issued 277 licences with a total value of £86,720,721 [xls] that included some sort of military end-use.
The government’s support at another arms fair is certainly lucrative. But from a moral standpoint, campaigners find the use of public money to support a regime like Bahrain’s appalling. And after knowing the full extent of the Bahraini government’s alleged abuses, many UK taxpayers will probably feel the same.
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