THE BLOG

UK Arms Exports Support State Repression

09/03/2015 17:37 GMT | Updated 09/05/2015 10:59 BST

Between March 10-12 the quiet English town of Farnborough will play host to the Security & Policing conference and exhibition. This event will bring together some of the world's largest arms companies with some of the worst human rights abusers.

The Security & Policing conference and exhibition is a government sponsored event for "police, law enforcement and security professionals who are tasked with security, civil protection and National Resilience." We all care about our security and the type of policing that is done in our name, yet the event itself is shrouded in secrecy.

The reason for the discretion is supposedly because it allows exhibitors to "display products which would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment." For this reason the organisers only allow attendees that they say are "serious about security and are either end users, influencers, specifiers, decision makers or purchasers." In contrast, journalists and those on the receiving end of policing and security policies are unable to attend.

Unfortunately, the notionally 'strict' home office entrance criteria do not prevent invitations being issued to delegations that represent some of most oppressive governments in the world. For example, last year's event was attended by representatives of the regimes in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

It's not just standard policing equipment that will be on sale; visitors will be able to purchase almost anything they like from across a wide range of destructive weaponry that is available to anyone with deep enough pockets. The 'security' equipment being marketed will include sniper rifles, crowd control equipment and surveillance technology. Far from promoting safety, the show will help to arm repressive regimes with exactly the kind of equipment that has been, and is being used, across the world to suppress protests and silence opposition.

The guests and the equipment aren't the only problem; the exhibitors themselves have enabled a long list of human rights violations.

More than 300 companies will be in attendance, including major weapons manufacturers and surveillance companies. BAE's armoured vehicles were used in Bahrain to support the repression of democracy protests. Chemring's weapons, including tear gas, have been turned on protesters in Egypt and Hong Kong, and yet the government supports it in continuing to supply repressive regimes across the world.

These abuses have only come to light because of the work of activists and journalists. the government's safeguards have not stopped any of them from taking place, and unfortunately there is no sign of that changing.

However, it's not just arms and surveillance equipment that are sold to these regimes, it's also political legitimacy. Security & Policing is supported politically, financially and logistically by the UK government, and the countries that take part do so, in part, because it strengthens their political links and it sends out the signal that the UK supports what they are doing.

Not everyone wants to be associated with this. In 2013 Guildford Cathedral, the venue for the event's Gala Dinner, cancelled the booking after Campaign Against Arms Trade raised ethical concerns with the church authorities. We are urging the UK government to follow its example by ending all political, financial and logistical support for events that bring together the biggest arms companies in the world and some of the worst human rights abusers.

Far from keeping us secure, events like this only strengthen the UK's ties to brutal dictatorships and entrench the government's role as a global arms seller. Furthermore, they undermine the UK's political credibility on human rights and strengthen the position of repressive regimes. Most importantly they put weapons and surveillance equipment in the hands of those who should never be allowed anywhere near them and endanger the lives, security and human rights of those living under oppression.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade