- The DSEI arms fair opens at the Excel Centre in East London
- Event brings together arms dealers and invited delegates from human-rights abusing regimes
- Hundreds of activists protesting and blockading arms fair set-up
- Strong opposition from local community and political leaders in London
On Tuesday, the Defence and Security Equipment International 2021 arms fair (DSEI), will open at the Excel centre in London Docklands, amidst massive protests and opposition from political leaders and local communities in London. It will run from 14-17 September.
Despite being a somewhat slimmed-down affair in the wake of the Covid pandemic, DSEI remains one of the biggest arms fairs in the world, bringing together hundreds of arms companies, including most of the largest ones in the western world, with potential buyers from governments and militaries worldwide, including many of the worst human rights abusers. DSEI would not be possible without the support of the UK Government. It is supported by the Department of International Trade and the Ministry of Defence
Saudi Arabia, which continues to wage a brutal war in Yemen, the cause of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and which ruthlessly represses dissent at home, is a perennial presence at DSEI, honoured guests of the UK government. Last time in 2019, the official UK government guest list included delegations from Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan, all listed at the time as “countries of concern” by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Preparations for the arms fair have already been the subject of massive protests, with activists blocking roads with cars, clambering onto tanks, locking themselves to digging machines, and draping banners from the top of police vans. Some have even made camp in the road overnight, as they seek to oppose the setting up of the arms fair. The opening day of the arms fair on Tuesday will see even larger protests, with hundreds of activists expected to make clear that the merchants of death are not welcome in London.
Before that, on Sunday, a march and rally will be held in Newham against the arms fair, highlighting the strong presence of Israeli arms companies at DSEI, marketing their “battle-tested” weapons that have played a central role in the occupation of Palestine. Meanwhile, opening on Saturday 11th and continuing through the week of DSEI to the 17th, is an art exhibtion, “Art the Arms Fair”, showcasing art protesting the arms trade and militarism.
Protestors against DSEI have been buoyed by the stance of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who wrote a strongly-worded letter to organisers of the arms fair calling on them to leave and not come back. He also tweeted “The DSEI arms fair has no place in our city. For London to be used as a marketplace for those wishing to trade in weapons to countries that abuse the human rights of their citizens goes completely against our values.” Also opposing the arms fair is Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, where DSEI is held, who will be speaking at an online rally against DSEI on Tuesday evening.
Siana Bangura of Campaign Against Arms Trade said
“The DSEI arms fair is a moral disgrace and an insult to the people of London. As the Mayor of London has emphasized, the weapons that DSEI delegates will be eagerly ogling in the Excel Centre are often the very same that have devastated the families and homelands of communities living a stone’s throw away, and across the city. We will be there on Tuesday to tell the visiting warmongers and dictators that they are not welcome here.”