Countries involved in conflict or internal suppression or having a record of human rights abuse have been invited to the London arms fair by the UK government.
The list of invited countries was released after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government body responsible for inviting delegates.
Of the 53 countries, plus the United Nations (UN), who have been invited to attend Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEi) in September, at least 15 have serious conflict and human rights concerns or urgent development needs.
Among the invited countries is Saudi Arabia, one of the major markets for UK weapons, especially through the notorious Al Yamamah and Salam Project deals with BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms company. In December 2006, the UK Serious Fraud Office announced that it was dropping its investigation into allegations of corruption around Al Yamamah after direct pressure on the UK government by the Saudi government: a decision challenged by CAAT through a judicial review. Saudi Arabia is a secretive regime with a documented record of torture and human rights abuse.
Colombia has also been invited, despite its record of violent internal insurgency and suppression, by military, paramilitary and police forces, against political opponents and indigenous peoples. Human rights organisations have recorded widespread detention and torture.
Angola is also expected to attend, although it has recently emerged from a long civil war and faces years of reconstruction. Aid agencies point out that funds spent on weapons are a diversion from development needs, including health, education and housing.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 records five "major countries of concern" who have been invited to DSEi; Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
CAAT spokesperson Kaye Stearman said: “The invitation list is revealing because it shows that the UK government, whether represented by UKTI DSO or the Ministry of Defence, seems happy to invite countries who are involved [in] conflicts or have appalling human rights records, as documented by the FCO's own Human Rights report. On paper they don't even meet the UK government's own standard for arms export licenses - nevertheless they are invited to an arms fair and receive approval to acquire even more weapons.”
The 15 countries who have been invited who have serious conflict and human rights concerns or urgent development needs are: Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam