By CAAT campaigner, Holly-Rae Smith.
Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) is one of the world’s largest arms fairs. It is organised by Clarion Events and the Government department UK Trade & Investment’s Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). DSEi is an opportunity for the world’s nations to put their differences aside once every two years; enjoy black-tie dinners at some of London’s most prestigious venues and to casually pick out the weapons that their armies, police and private security firms will use to violently oppress and slaughter the citizens of each other’s countries, including their own. This year’s guest list includes delegates from countries identified by the UK Foreign Office as having ‘the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns’ authoritarian regimes and six countries that were at war in 2012. Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among the attendees, alongside delegates from the United Nations, NATO, UK, USA, France and Germany.
Everything from guns, tanks, riot gear, fighter jets and battleships are there to be chosen. Thanks to some companies, attendees might even grab a sneaky peek at weapons which are illegal under international treaties. These include cluster munitions which displayed in 2009 and again in 2011 by Pakistan Ordnance Factories at the fair. The organisers and attendees will tell you that it’s a ‘legitimate Defence Exhibition’ but no matter how glossy the brochure or slick the delivery, the message is the same – DSEi means business and business for them means destruction and the death of thousands.
DSEi is held in the ExCeL Centre, nestled within the Royal Docks in Newham borough. This is cruel irony. Newham is inner London’s most populous area with the most diverse population in the country. Newham also has the highest unemployment rates in London with high rates of ill health and early death rates. Many of its residents are jobless, failed asylum seekers with no access to benefits or housing– people who have fled war torn countries only to find the UK government hosting the arms dealers responsible for the destruction of their families and homes. Not only are arms dealers being hosted but they are being lavished upon with money that could otherwise be spent on welfare, saving lives in boroughs like Newham. The UK government will instigate, financially subsidise and facilitate private arms deals with human rights abusers while defending vicious welfare cuts in social housing, healthcare and benefits. Even historically, the choice of hosting DSEi in Newham is insulting, this area was one of the worst affected in the London Blitz.
This is unacceptable. Our government is pushing the arms fair to happen while paying lip service to justice, freedom and democracy. A week of action in protest has been called. A coalition of groups including Campaign Against Arms Trade, East London Against Arms Fairs, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Occupy, Smash EDO and War on Want have been working together to stop this travesty and we need help. A group of protesters have occupied the space outside the arms fair and some of the hotels which are hosting many of the delegates. We’ve already seen lock-ons, vigils and disproportionate policing (surprise, surprise). There is a still a full program of diverse events planned for the rest of the week and everyone is, of course, invited. If you are not local to London or cannot protest in this way, you can use our map to find arms dealers with offices or factories near you and plan an action which is tailored to your local community. Or, you could lobby your local MP to put pressure on the government.
We have already blocked machines getting in and disrupting the fair set-up for over four hours. The entrance was blocked yesterday morning for an hour, which caused queuing and disruption inside. There is plenty more to do. Check out CAAT’s website for more information. Let’s make this the last arms fair!