By Kelly Grehan
The word ‘fair’ might conjure up images of village greens, tombolas, cake sales and arts and crafts or maybe thrill seeking rides, but in London this week an altogether different fair has come to town: one in which 1,600 exhibitors from 54 countries display their weaponary to prospective buyers.
Representatives of countries with concerning human rights records including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have been invited. The bi-annual event is one reason for the UK is the second biggest arms dealer in the world.
Whilst there has been condemnation of this from protest groups International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has defended Britain’s arms export dealing claiming that if countries were unable to acquire the weapons they wanted legally there would be an eruption of ‘unregulated’ sales. Which reminds me of the line trotted out by drug dealers, that if they did not sell addicts drugs someone without their diligence would.
There has been particular pressure from campaigners for Britain to end its arms trading with Saudi Arabia, because of its well documented history of repression and human rights abuses. However the government has paid no attention and has continued to regard Saudi Arabia as a priority market for UK arms sales.
The UK has approved £3.8bn of arms licences to Saudi Arabia, the leader of a multinational coalition in Yemen, since the conflict escalated in March 2015.
This is fuelling the civil war in Yemen, where Saudi forces are supporting the government in its struggle against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. It is very likely that selling arms to a country in conflict will make the conflict more deadly and last longer, indeed, there is no sign that the Saudi-led air bombardment, which has been going on for two years, will decisively break the military stalemate.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and three million displaced already with the coalition’s air and naval blockade driving millions more to the brink of famine and sparking the world’s largest ongoing cholera outbreak. Why do we not see more headlines about this? Maybe because the unpalatable truth is we are complicit in the indescribable suffering of the Yemeni people.
The truth is, for all our talk about us being a humanitarian nation, by holding the world’s biggest arms fair and trading with countries we know to be engaging in immoral warfare categorically, we are a country who prioritise arms sales and profit over human rights. As a taxpayer and British citizen I just do not see how anyone can feel proud of our approach to arms sales and knowing what we are involved in in Yemen, but also in other countries.
With every weapon we have been involved in being used against an innocent person or or destroying the homes and cities of innocent people with have blood on our hands.
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