My day at the London Arms Fair
I’ve worked professionally in the field of arms trade regulation for the past 20 years and yesterday was a first for me.
I was refused entry to this year’s DSEi Arms Fair in London's ExCel Centre, an event I've been to before to monitor the equipment on display.
Deeply ironic, seeing that back in 2009 I was officially invited to attend to speak alongside the then Minister of Defence, Quentin Davis, on issues of arms control regulation and enforcement of those regulations.
Deeply ironic too, given our role in working with our own government to help introduce the very laws on the advertising of torture equipment that I was due to check were being properly applied at this year’s event.
As an aside, as well as sharing a platform with the UK Minister, I also identified a company from Pakistan illegally advertising cluster munitions at the event.
Despite assurances from the organisers, the same company came back in 2011 and advertised even more cluster munitions.
Fast forward to 2015
My registration went unanswered, my emails chasing my registration went unanswered. I phoned and was told to just turn up with photo ID as my registration was still being 'security cleared'.
I did as I was told, I joined the queue with hundreds of others, in what appeared to be a 'day ticket' line.
Several people in line around me hadn’t even pre-registered and were told they could just fill out the forms at the desk.
When I eventually made the security desk and surrendered my passport, I was quickly and politely ushered to a private room whilst they 'checked a few things'.
After 30 mins of checking, the answer was essentially, Amnesty International, you are not welcome here.
My visit to dsei so far! Escorted to this room! Been here 30 mins! pic.twitter.com/Vz7o8eeSuM
— Olly Sprague (@OllySprague) September 16, 2015
The reason given was a problem with my application form and the fact that Amnesty International wasn’t recognised as part of the eligibility criteria to attend.
However you dress it up, it was a snub and someone somewhere decided it was better to keep us out. Meanwhile, countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan are given the red-carpet treatment.
What was the Fair trying to hide?
Was it that we’d helped uncover illegal advertising activity taking place at every Fair since 2005? That’s 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 where we’ve helped uncover companies advertising everything from leg irons and gang chains to electric shock stun baton and cluster bombs.
The point is, none of these companies were spotted by any official body tasked with policing the Fair, they were spotted by Amnesty and our partners.
From the list of this year’s exhibitors, we know of at least two companies who make and produce a variety of electric shock weapons, at least one company who makes components for cluster munitions.
Can we be sure that those, or any of the 1,500 other companies exhibiting at this year’s Fair were not advertising these illegal weapons, given past failings at every fair since 2005?
Because we were denied access, we simply will never know.
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.