Every year, CAAT activists attend the Annual General Meeting of the UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems. We do this so that we can challenge the Board face to face and expose the hypocrisy and greed at the heart of the arms trade. One campaigner who attended this year was Arabian activist, Ameen Nemer. Here he reflects on his reasons for going and how he found the experience.
I attended because I wanted to provide a voice for Arabian people. The absolute monarch does not represent the people in Arabia. The House of Saud tries to kidnap our voices. BAE has fallen for the propaganda and presents the regime as a liberating force. I attended so that I could tell the Board and shareholders about what is really happening to my people and land.
I am sure the BAE AGM will be happy not to have that voice which reminds them of the dirty job they are doing. No matter how nice they present themselves using polite language and advance technology, criminals are still criminals. They need to be exposed, and CAAT is doing a great job.
Shareholders got to direct questions to BAE’s Chair, Roger Carr. He was obviously well-briefed and had prepared answers for questions about the bombing in Yemen. His words may have been delivered with confidence, but they were morally bankrupt.
World military spending is going up, according to data released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the most authoritative and comprehensive international source on military expenditure.1 According to SIPRI, the world total increased by 2.6% in real, inflation-adjusted terms, reaching an estimated $1,822 billion. The figure is almost certainly an underestimate, given that some countries are completely excluded due to a lack of data (notably Qatar, Syria, and North Korea). A number of other countries, typically those with large natural resource revenues such as the Gulf states, often exclude spending on arms imports from the limited information they publish, funding such purchases directly from oil revenues without including them in the official budget.
The organisers of the DPRTE arms fair made the decision to move their event to the ‘high security’ Farnborough International Ltd. so that they could go about their ghastly business unimpeded. On the 28th March, we set about making sure that those in attendance received the iciest reception Rushmoor had to offer.
If you wanted evidence of just how effective sustained protest against the arms trade can be, look no further than the campaign run by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair. With the promise of a day of creative action à la prior protests in Cardiff and Bristol, Birmingham NEC were pressured into stating that it was ‘more appropriate for DPRTE to be hosted at a more self-contained venue.’ The fact that this arms fair cannot be held in public space anymore is testimony to the general antipathy the general public holds for this amoral trade. It is for this reason that DPRTE 2019 now finds itself behind the chainlink fence of the ‘high security’ Farnborough Exposition and Conference Centre.
We were joined by incredible activists from all around the UK, as well as our allies around the world, who sent inspiring messages of solidarity. Our thoughts were grounded from the start in the resistance of those at the sharp end of the global arms trade, with messages from Yemeni activists like Ahmed Jahaf of Sana’a, “We know we are not forgotten because of you. Maybe you are few but you are a lot to us.”
Amina Atiq, Liverpudlian Yemeni poet spoke to us ahead of a journey to Egypt, where her Yemeni family have fled. She said, “These wounds take years to heal, some never heal. If everyone does a small thing we can bring change, and we will bring change.”
As well as hearing voices of resistance from conflict-affected countries, we were inspired by the solidarity of our friends protesting arms fairs around the world, like Peace Action Wellington, New Zealand, who said they were inspired by the diversity of UK activists’ tactics. “It’s amazing to feel connected to a global movement. Kia kaha! It means ‘stay strong’ in Máori.”
World Without War activists in South Korea told us how protests to stop the DSEI arms fair inspired their own resistance to stop the ADEX arms fair in Seoul. “The arms industry is so big it can feel impossible to bring them down. It feels like they are everywhere, and they are. But so is our resistance! We hope one day our work will inspire others in other parts of the world.”
Arms trade: rooted in many struggles for justice
Our fight to stop the DSEI arms fair is inextricably linked with other intersecting struggles for justice – struggles that It Starts Here called to put front and centre of our action in 2019. The day began with discussions on issues including anti-racism and the increasing militarisation of the UK’s borders. Listen again.
West London-born poet and activist Shareefa Energy reminded attendees of the structural violence inflicted on people of colour and the working class in the UK, seen in how Grenfell residents on our doorstep continue to be treated, to how imagery of people of colour is used in media and NGO coverage of conflict in the global south.
“There’s a conversation we need to have. Why are people from ethnic minorities dehumanised? Would you ever see English people on a newspaper dead? We need to have these conversations. Until we talk about racism and structural violence, we won’t understand why these issues are going on.”
Sarah Reader of Agir Pour La Paix in Brussels, co-founder of Stop The Arms Fair reminded us of how far we have come and what we’ve built together: “It’s amazing to see so many people in the room 6 months before DSEI. 8 years ago there were 8 of us in a room!”
On the ‘Anti-racism, migrant solidarity and the arms trade’ panel, Sanaz from ‘Unis Resist Border Controls’ spoke about the links to arms trade and university funding and research. “Many universities invest in arms companies like BAE Systems, G4S. We need to stop this hypocrisy. [We] demand to end investment in the arms trade, in the private firms that fund the violence that creates refugees.”
Geraldine spoke from the All African Women’s Group, a group of refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. “Instead of reaching safety,” she said, “We face detention, deportation, and destitution. But we are part of the growing movement calling for justice.”
Chrissie from Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike reminded us that “Many of the people suffering because of the arms trade are black and brown people. The EU response has not been to support people seeking safety, but to stop migration to Europe at all costs.” Also representing the Crossroads Women’s Centre, Chrissie spoke about the importance of gender: “80% of refugees worldwide are women. We bear the brunt of war. We are the ones that pick up the pieces. But we are not victims, we are protagonists in our struggle, wherever we are.”
DSEI: Let’s stop it here
The DSEI arms fair is where we can stop arms deals before they start. The last DSEI in 2017 saw the most widespread protests, media coverage and parliamentary interest in the arms fair since the Iraq War. A huge range of groups took action, from queer and environmental activists to academics and faith groups. Over six days, the set up of the fair was disrupted by a huge array of creative and fun actions. Will you help make 2019 even bigger?
We can stop them
Activists have now successfully chased the arms fairs out of Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham. After the threat of action by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair, organisers moved the DTPRE arms fair to behind security fences at Farnborough military base. And last year protests outside the Undersea Defence Technology arms fair in Glasgow persuaded Glasgow City Council to promise it would never host an arms fair again. If enough people disrupt the set-up of DSEI in 2019, we can stop the arms fair.
New SIPRI arms transfers data shows small overall increase in global trade, but huge increase in sales to the Middle East.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yesterday releasedits latest data on the global arms trade, for which it is by far the best source. The data provides details of deliveries of major conventional weapons worldwide from 1950-2018, both in numerical terms and with searchable lists of the actual weapons transferred between countries. The information can be found in SIPRI’s database, and some of the key points are discussed in a fact sheet also published yesterday.
On the 16th Feb, and to mark 16 years since the 2003 anti-war protests, BP or not BP?, and many others took over the British Museum; targetting specifically the BP-sponsored Assyria exhibition. This was part of a series of actions, that also included the action at the press launch of the exhibition in November. Iraqi members of the group also set up an alternative exhibition in Feb-March, with works of Iraqis in Iraq and in the diaspora exposing the realities of BP in Iraq. Here you can readwhy we protested on the 16th.
An overview of the takeover on the 16th can be found here and Culture Unstained also released a detailed report with FOIs from the British Museum on the recent I am Ashurbanipal exhibition.
Mel Strickland is one of 15 activists that blocked a government deportation flight chartered to transport people for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone .
The activists were charged and convicted under repressive “antiterror” legislation, and could face years in prison. CAAT stands in solidarity with the activists as they appeal the appalling verdict. Mel has also taken action on environmental issues and against the DSEI arms fair.
I was part of a group that successfully stopped a charter flight at Stansted airport in March 2017 through peaceful means. We were deeply concerned about secret charter flights that take place in the middle of the night from Stansted airport. On these flights, people are deported en masse to countries where commercial flights don’t often go. Read more