On 20 June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government granting export licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia is “irrational and therefore unlawful”. But instead of respecting this ruling, the government is sending a massive ‘fuck you’ to the UK courts and to the people of Yemen.
Minister for trade Graham Stuart says the government is still inviting a delegation from Saudi Arabia to the London arms fair. Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is one of the world’s largest arms fairs. It takes place every two years and will return to the capital in September – along with the Saudi delegation.
According to its website, DSEI provides “valuable opportunities for networking” and is:
The world leading event that connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the global defence & security supply chain on an unrivalled scale.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told The Canary:
DSEI is one of the biggest arms fairs in the world. It exists for one reason only, and that is to sell as many weapons as possible. It will see UK civil servants and military personnel introducing some of the world’s most repressive regimes to many of the world’s biggest arms companies.
The UN has long described the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the “worst in the world”. Its report in February highlighted that:
14.3 million people are classified as being in acute need, with around 3.2 million requiring treatment for acute malnutrition; that includes two million children under-five, and more than one million pregnant and lactating women.
According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 91,600 people have been killed in the war with 11,700 reported civilian deaths. Including deaths from hunger, illness and lack of access to health services, the UN predicts the total number of deaths could reach 233,000 by the end of the year.
The UK government is fuelling death and destruction
The UK has played a central role in arming the Saudi regime. The government doesn’t give “exact figures”, but a House of Commons briefing paper states that:
the UK was the second largest exporter of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia (after the US) between 2010 and 2018, and larger than all other countries combined.
Between 2010 and 2018 Saudi Arabia was the largest importer of arms from the UK; the total volume of arms transfers was around 43% of the UK’s total arms export volume.
But as the briefing paper sets out, CAAT is clear that:
£4.6bn worth of arms licensed for Saudi Arabia since March 2015, £2.7 billion worth were ML10 licenses (aircraft, helicopters, drones) and £1.9 billion were ML4 licenses (grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures).
And as Smith asserted:
The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen would not have been possible without UK-made weapons. It has created a humanitarian crisis for Yemen, but for the arms companies it has been a major business opportunity.
Over 100 people were arrested during protests in 2017. Protesters carried out a variety of actions during the course of the week, attempting to stop the arms fair from even starting. Many were acquitted of all charges. As one of the defendants previously told The Canary:
Three district judges acquitted activists on the basis that their direct actions were reasonable given the role DSEI plays in bringing together arms companies with countries that are fuelling conflict and repression, and the amount of evidence that countries like Saudi Arabia are using British-made weapons to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. Three judges agreed that DSEI was deemed to be of significant enough public interest to justify people blocking roads and obstructing equipment destined for the arms fair.
Although several of these acquittals were successfully challenged by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Court of Appeal ruling coupled with the invitation to the Saudi delegation make the legal case for shutting down DSEI even stronger.
Shut it down!
Smith outlined why it’s so important that we all take action to stop DSEI, saying:
The arms being promoted by DSEI could be used in atrocities and war crimes for years to come. That is why people from across the UK will be coming together to send the message loudly and clearly that it’s long past time to stop the arms sales and shut down the arms fair.
Smith is right. It’s why every single one of us who can must get to London in September; to put our bodies in the way; to speak up for the people of Yemen and the victims of UK bombs around the world. DSEI must not be allowed to happen. This trade must not continue. And we can all be a part of making this happen.
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