THE GOVERNMENT’S official guest list for this year’s DSEI arms fair in London is a roll call of the world’s most appalling human rights abusers, campaigners warned yesterday.
Officials have invited 56 countries to the event, which starts on Monday, including several accused of having committed war crimes and atrocities against their own people including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The official list was published following a parliamentary question from Green MP Caroline Lucas, who said the arms fair is “a dark stain on our country’s already tarnished reputation.”
She said it was time to shut this “festival of violence” down for good and urged the government to engage in peace-building rather than trying to cement itself as the world’s weapons outlet.
The government and military delegations have been invited by the Defence and Security Organisation, which is part of the Department for International Trade.
Roughly 60 per cent of British arms exports over the past 10 years have gone to the war-torn Middle East.
Protesters have marked the preparations for DSEI with daily blockades preventing vehicles from delivering weapons and military equipment.
Campaigners say “arrest-happy” police have nicked at least 63 people taking part in the peaceful protests.
Yesterday’s action saw Academics Against Arms holding a conference at the gates of the Excel exhibition centre while activists continued to “lock on” to blocks of concrete and other objects to form a blockade.
Two activists dressed as Daleks, from TV series Doctor Who, were arrested after they joined the protest. Earlier they had been giving advice to protesters about their rights should they be detained.
Hundreds of posters have appeared on London billboards, bus stops and on the Underground this week with the message: “Arms dealers not welcome in London.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith said: “This list includes a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers.
“They will be greeted by civil servants and government ministers who are there for one reason only: to promote weapons.
“It’s impossible to promote human rights and democracy while arming and supporting authoritarian regimes and tyrants.”
A mass protest is planned for today outside the centre, with Sunday’s action including protests by Kurdish organisations opposing arms sales to Turkey.
Solidarity with the People of Turkey spokesman Arif Bektas said the British government had “blood on its hands.”
“The Turkish government has destroyed many towns and cities in Kurdistan and will use the weapons to destroy even more as [Turkish President] Erdogan continues his attacks on human rights, democracy and freedom of expression.”
Prime Minister Theresa May was criticised earlier this year for signing a £100 million arms “deal of shame” with Mr Erdogan as the initial part of a deal worth billions.
Saudi Arabia has also sparked condemnation for its military onslaught on Yemen, where British-made fighter jets and bombs have been used to kill thousands of civilians since the conflict began in 2015.
In the past three years Britain has approved over 300 arms export licences to Saudia Arabia, worth nearly £4 billion.
Turkey has received over £500m over the same period, and only this week human rights group Amnesty International condemned Britain for its inaction during Bahrain’s crackdown on opposition figures and human rights activists. Bahrain has bought nearly £30m of arms from Britain in the past three years.