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DSEi – Lifeblood of the arms trade

Who will be shopping at DSEi?

On the basis of the official invitations from previous DSEi exhibitions, we can say with certainty that representatives from countries engaged in conflict, with poor human rights records and with major development needs will all be in attendance again this year.

Human Rights

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's annual Human Rights Report for 2005 considers twenty countries in detail, in which it considers that human rights are a particularly serious problem. Six of these; Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Israel, Russia and Saudi Arabia, were invited to DSEi in 2003, and a seventh, Indonesia, was invited in 1999. Unfortunately, these are not the only countries which have been invited which have poor human rights records. For instance, the FCO website says that in Algeria there have been "numerous documented allegations of human rights abuses by the security forces and state-armed militias, including the enforced disappearances of at least 4,000 people, abductions, torture and extra judicial killings". Meanwhile in Nigeria it says that "the Army has committed serious abuses of human rights." Yet both received a government invitation to DSEi in 2003.

Conflicts

The governments involved in many serious ongoing conflicts are regularly invited to DSEi. These include Israel, whose 38 year occupation of Palestinian territories has been judged illegal under international law; Colombia where both the military and paramilitary forces with whom they work kill and 'disappear' civilians on a regular basis; Russia whose war to stop Chechnya gaining independence has killed thousands and reduced Chechnya's capital Grozny to a pile of rubble; and of course the US, who with the UK continues to occupy Iraq, resulting in over 100,000 Iraqi deaths by some estimates. In addition, Pakistan and India continue to maintain hostile relations over the disputed territory of Kashmir, and in 2002 were on the brink of war several times. Both came to DSEi the year before this, and the year after.

Development

Arms sales undermine sustainable development both by taking up resources which could be spent elsewhere, and by sustaining and provoking conflict which has in itself a massive negative impact on development. Yet despite supposedly being committed to tackling global poverty, the government continues to invite countries with very low ratings on the UN's human development index to DSEi. Tanzania is one example. Half the population lack regular access to clean drinking water, and like other southern African countries, Tanzania is struggling to cope with the AIDS epidemic. Yet the government continues to consider it a legitimate target for UK arms sales, pushing through a deal for an entirely unsuitable £28 million military air-traffic control system in 2001. Tanzania was also invited to DSEi that year, and again in 2003.

Not invited?

It it also important to remember that whilst the government eventually tells us who got official invitations to DSEi, there is no way to know who the 20,000 people with visitors' passes are. Since human rights are little more than a minor PR inconvenience for the corporate arms traders, it is unlikely that any controls are placed on who can attend DSEi as a visitor; so long as they are bona-fide government or military personnel that is. Despite DSEi being publicly subsidised, concerned members of the general public need not apply.

James O'Nions is a researcher at CAAT.

Topics: Arms trade