Yet here we are: the Natural History Museum has confirmed it will host the official welcome reception for Farnborough International on 9 July. As arms dealers gather to toast their first day of business, will executives from Rosoboronexport, the primary weapons supplier to the Assad regime, be among them?
Farnborough International is best known for its Airshow, a “great family day out” where “kids go free” – but the main business is its combined arms fair and civil aerospace trade show in the week before.
Shows like Farnborough are the oil in the machinery of the international arms trade; they exist to bring arms buyers and sellers together to network and make deals. Nine of the world’s top ten arms companies will be there, alongside military buyers from around the world.
Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state owned arms company, plans a significant presence. This company is also the main weapons supplier to a regime currently waging war on its own people.
Today it confirmed it intends to continue arms shipments to Syria, despite the atrocities committed by government forces. Its sales in recent years have included missile systems, armoured vehicles, aircraft and tanks.
As a major exhibitor, the company is also likely to attend Farnborough’s official Welcome Reception, held in the Natural History Museum’s Central Hall.
Hundreds of people have already written to the Museum, asking it to not to support an event where weapons sales are promoted to human rights abusers. So far, the Director’s response has been to claim that this event is just a routine commercial transaction, and any concerns over the ethics of the event should be raised with the organisers.
But accepting a booking for this event is not a morally neutral act by the Museum. It is providing a venue for what Farnborough’s organisers describe as “THE most important event during the Farnborough week, exclusively attended by key industry senior level figures, international delegations and exhibitors … a must attend event and an unparalleled networking opportunity.”
At the previous Farnborough International in 2010, military delegations courted by the UK included Algeria, Bahrain, China, Indonesia, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Just seven months later Bahrain and Libya were taking up arms against their own people. Is the Museum really happy to hire its facilities to an event where weapons sales are promoted to authoritarian regimes?
Now, amid growing calls for the international community to isolate Syria’s arms suppliers, will the Museum just look away if Rosoboronexport takes advantage of the ‘unparalleled networking opportunity’ that the Museum is supporting?
This is not just another trade show, another commercial booking. The Natural History Museum is hiring out its rooms, and its good name, to those profiting from human rights abuses and conflict. If we want to help end atrocities in Syria and elsewhere we need to stand up and say this is NOT OK.
More than 1,200 people have already written to the Museum. Add your voice.