Arms Fair: What has the Government got to hide?

If the UK government truly believes in a transparent arms control system, then the doors to its arms fairs should be opened to allow for closer public scrutiny, said Amnesty International at the start of the Defence Systems and Equipment International arms fair in London Docklands today.

Amnesty International has been refused access to the arms fair on the basis that the organisers 'have some difficulty in reconciling your interest in the exhibition with our admission criteria.'

'When 89%* of the British public disagree with the government selling arms and security equipment to countries which violate human rights, why should the UK provide such a secretive platform for representatives of these countries to meet arms manufacturers and buy the tools of their trade?' said Amnesty International Director, Kate Allen. 'If they have nothing to hide, why won't they let us in?'

The human rights organisation believes that Parliament and the public have a right to know what deals are being struck in the UK. Amnesty International is concerned that deals struck at the arms fair may lead to human rights violations. Many of the companies marketing arms and related equipment in the exhibition have sold licences allowing for the manufacture of their equipment abroad.

'There is a very real danger that licensed production deals may be struck at this exhibition which will not need an export licence and which may result in human rights violations in the country of manufacture,' added Amnesty International Director, Kate Allen. 'A further danger is that such equipment may then be despatched to other countries which would not have received an export licence if the equipment was being sent directly from the UK.'

Amnesty International has documented UK licensed production deals which have armed states involved in human rights violations. For example: Heckler and Koch UK (a subsidiary of BAE Systems) allows a Turkish state company to make its submachine guns under licence. In 1999 the Turkish company exported 1000 of these guns to the Indonesian security forces, 500 of them at the height of the East Timor crisis.

Amnesty International is concerned that the Export Control Bill contains no mention of licensed production which means that the government may remain unable to control exports from UK licensed production facilities overseas.

* Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres, January 2001 Phone Pol

View latest press releases