Arms fair invite to Tanzania puts profit before tackling poverty

Secret list finally released

Press conference 5th September, London Euston (see below)

Campaigners reacted with horror this morning when it was revealed that Tanzania, Angola and Israel have been secretly invited to shop for weapons at next week’s London arms bazaar.

Following controversy about the UK Government licensing a £28 million military air traffic control system to Tanzania which it neither needs nor can afford, it is astounding and disturbing that Tanzania – one of the very poorest countries in the world – has been invited to buy yet more arms in London next week, said Martin Hogbin, campaigns co-ordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade.

It is a classic case of the UK government putting the profits of arms companies before the needs of the very poorest in the world, he said.

The private company running next week’s Defence Systems Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition has for months refused to publish its list of invitees to the fair. The firm, PGI Spearhead Ltd, even wrote to an MP with the lie: This year we have decided that we will not host international delegations.[1]

But on Friday, Spearhead revealed it does have an invite list and we have obtained a copy.

Last week campaigners were shocked to learn the UK Government had invited axis of evil country Syria to shop for arms at DSEI 2003, as well as other countries of concern like Saudi Arabia, Chile, Colombia, Turkey, South Africa, India and Pakistan.

Put together, the Government’s invites and the secret invites are a roll call of human rights abusers, countries drowning in poverty and countries with huge internal and small arms conflict problems, said Hogbin.

A roll call of human rights abusers – Campaigners condemn invites

Spearhead’s list of invited countries to the arms fair is drawn up in consultation with the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. However, the MoD have confirmed they have absolutely no powers to decide who the private company invites.

It is amazing that the UK government is contributing £1.5 million of taxpayer’s money to this arms fair, yet still can’t decide who shops for arms on British soil, said Hogbin.[2]

CAAT has obtained the exhibition company’s list of invites to countries, which were sent to their London embassies. CAAT is particularly concerned that, as well as Tanzania, both Angola and Israel have been invited to shop for arms next week.[3]

Martin Hogbin said:

Israel is embarked on illegal incursions into Palestinian land, using aircraft and small arms bought from the US and other western nations. The last thing it needs is yet more weapons to perpetrate human rights abuses. If the UK was serious about developing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine we would not promote sales of more arms into the region.

Angola has a huge problem with black market small arms, and a history of civil conflict. Up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost in fighting over the past quarter century. Simply put, more will die if we pump more arms into the country.

The government’s list of invitations to the arms bazaar was published on Wednesday 27th August, on the website of the Defence Export Services Organisation (, the 600 staff strong government agency who’s sole job it is to promote British arms equipment abroad.

Countries on the government’s guest list, which are of particular concern to CAAT, include Syria, India & Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey

Martin Hogbin said:

How can Syria be called a rogue nation and threatened with military action with one hand, while invited to shop for arms on British soil on the other? The invite could mean American arms companies are displaying weapons to the Syrian military which could then be used against them.

Less than 12 months ago, India and Pakistan were teetering on the brink of nuclear war with each other. Even today, they are at each other’s throats accusing each other of sponsoring terrorism. Inviting both of them to the arms fair illustrates how the Blair government is really more interested in flogging British weapons than making real progress towards peace.

The brutal regime in Saudi Arabia has been accused, even in recent weeks, of sanctioning torture and human rights abuse, even against British citizens. The Saudi royal family has also been accused of helping to fund Al Quaeda. Their invite to the London arms bazaar shows new Labour’s true-colours on human rights and arms exports: however brutal or corrupt, you are welcome to buy weapons in London!

South Africa needs to spend money on the development of civil industry, water supplies, education, housing and health. With no identifiable threat, what South Africa doesn’t need is yet more expensive weaponry. If the UK was really interested in helping heal the scar of Africa’s poverty, we would not be inviting its leaders to spend yet more money on horrific weapons. South Africa has also recently been accused of corruption in a $4bn arms deal with some of the companies exhibiting at DSEI this year.

Turkey has a record of massive human rights violations, especially against Kurds in the south-east of the country, using British weaponry. Inviting Turkey to this arms fair not only provides them with the equipment to continue their brutal regime, but illustrates our Government turning a blind eye to human rights abuse.

CAAT is launching a detailed briefing about the countries and arms firms attending the DSEI 2003 exhibition on Tuesday 2nd September. Reserve your copy on 020 7281 0297, or visit the CAAT website after publication.

Week of protests planned

A series of protests, direct actions and other anti-DSEI events have been planned for the week of the arms fair, including a mass demonstration in central London on 6th September, a Facing the Arms Traders event on the 9th September, the day the fair opens, and a direct action day on 10th September.

Press conference

There will be a press conference, with all media welcome, about the arms fair and the protests against it at 10.30am on Friday 5th September, at Friends House, Euston Road (opposite Euston rail station).

  1. In a letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP, dated 28th August 2003, Alex Nicholl, Project Director for DSEI, wrote:

    At DSEI 01 Spearhead Exhibitions invited and hosted second tier overseas delegations. This year we have decided that we will not host international delegations.

  2. The direct cost to the Ministry of Defence identified centrally is estimated at some £400,000. In addition, representatives of Her Majesty’s Government may carry out activities associated with the exhibition, as part of their normal duties, which could be identified only as disproportionate cost.

    Hansard 20 May 2003: Column 678W
    Arms Fair Cop cost to Top £1million

    A police spokesperson confirmed there would be a high police presence – with over 1,600 officers a day at the event.

    This year’s operation will cost more than last time. It’s a much bigger event and the whole area has changed. It will cost more than £1m but as yet we can’t say how much more.

    The Wharf, 28th August 2003:
  3. Invitations to attend DSEI 03 were sent to the following London based Embassies by the organisers of DSEI 2003:

    Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China (PRC), Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Uraguay, USA, Venezuela

For more information, images and interviews contact: Campaign Against Arms Trade on 020 7281 0297 or media(at)caat·org·uk.

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