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British arms fair sparks Catholic protests at London weapons fair venue

By Cian Molloy - 07 September, 2019

“As a nation, we claim to support refugees and oppose persecution, while simultaneously selling weapons to those responsible for killing innocent civilians and driving families from their homes.”

Close-up of red painted hands

Protestors from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade demonstrating outside Parliament (Photo: CAAT).

As Britain prepares to host one of the world’s biggest arms fairs next Tuesday, Catholics and Quakers are among those who have been protesting outside the ExCeL venue in East London.

The protests are an attempt to disrupt this year’s Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) weapons show.

Demonstrations that started last Monday have the blessing of Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, who is the chairman of the English and Welsh bishops’ department for international affairs.

About one-third of the United Kingdom’s authorised weapons exports go to nations identified by the United Kingdom Government itself as among the worst in the world for human rights abuses, according to a study of Department of International Trade statistics by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

Between 2008 and 2017, British arms deals worth UK£12bn (€13.38bn) were with states included in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights priority countries list, according to the CAAT 10-year analysis.

For example, Saudi Arabia is using weapons and munitions provided by the United Kingdom in the conflict in Yemen. As a result of the Yemeni civil war, tens of thousands have been killed and some 10 million people have been brought to the brink of starvation.

It is feared that after Brexit, that the United Kingdom will become an even more indiscriminate seller of arms and munitions, as it will no longer be subject to controls agreed by the European Union member states.

Already, pre-Brexit, DSEI is Europe’s biggest arms fair, with its promoters claiming it to be a “world leading event that connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the global defence & security supply chain on an unrivalled scale”.

Bishop Lang is unimpressed by these credentials. “In June 2017 Pope Francis explained that it is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace while promoting or allowing the arms trade,” the Bishop of Clifton said.

“Likewise, it is a contradiction for our government to speak of promoting human rights while inviting authoritarian regimes to the UK for one of the world’s largest arms fairs.

“As a nation, we claim to support refugees and oppose persecution, while simultaneously selling weapons to those responsible for killing innocent civilians and driving families from their homes.

“The government has a moral duty to observe and strengthen its arms control regulations and international obligations, rather than arming the same regimes that it vocally criticises for human rights abuses.

“I offer my prayers and best wishes to all those from our Catholic community who are taking up the Holy Father’s message and peacefully campaigning against the indiscriminate sale of arms.”

Protests over the DESI arms conference made news headlines because demonstrators clashed with police when attempts were made to prevent deliveries to the arms show venue.

Demonstrators had a different focus each day for their protests this week. For example: on Monday the theme was “Stop Arming Israel”, on Tuesday it was “No Faith in War” and on Wednesday it was “No Nuclear”.

Today the organisers are holding a “Festival of Resistance” and tomorrow’s theme will be “Borders & Migration”.

A peace vigil will be held on the eve of the conference, 9th September, organised by the Quakers.

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