Arms for the poor show

Sales exhibitions are normally associated with fabrics, garden furniture, pottery or sometimes gourmet catering (arent they?), but this week, Londons Docklands has been playing host to the DSEi arms fair.

It had never occurred to me that the defence industry would set up stands, pop in a mint, put on their best suits, grin at the customers in an endearing, enticing way as they amble from one stall to the next and beckon customers over to look at the stock on offer in their pre-prepared glossy brochure.  

But they do. I imagine they all barter with each other, like in any other market environment: How many grenades are you after? Come and check out this artillery, roll up get your mortar bombs; small arms ammunition three for a paound (aprox) ;come on- well throw in a nickel plated waist chain complete with handcuffs and leg shackles oh wait hang on, that last bit is illegal. Illegal, but still in the brochure.

You see yesterday, someone who had been invited to shop for weapons, kindly dropped one of the brochures on display at the fair, off at our office, for the attention of Oliver Sprague, our Arms Programme Director. What did we discover on pgs 3-4? An array of illegal torture equipment (click the picture above to see the full size version). Given the guest list, which included Bahrain, the very same country that was admonished just a few months back for its brutal crackdown on peaceful democracy protestors, this is not the sort of star-crossed pairing of seller and shopper that we should be proud to host. Indeed its astonishing that Bahrain were invited to pop along and peruse in the first place.  

Anyway, predictable as ever, we did what we always do in this sort of situation: We told on them. And sure enough, by this morning, DSEi released a statement, saying that they had kicked out Beechwood Equiptment, who had the stand with the brochure with the torture equipment. Well good- but too late. This is not the first time it has fallen to Amnesty to police this event, and DSEi had claimed that the scrutiny of the materials on display would be intensified this year. The checking system in place is clearly still not fit for purpose.

It is great to see the power of public disgrace and subsequent action from both DSEi and RBS before them. But it is also depressing that there is no lesson learning. Its all very well changing when you have been caught out, but it would be simpler if we could just hammer this lesson home: just because you can, doesnt mean you should. 

Anyway for now, at least, the illegal torture equipment has been pulled from the fair and we are ones who did the arm twisting. Lets keep it that way.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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