Anti-weapons protestors try to stop firms including Stevenage’s MBDA marketing missiles at London arms fair

One of MBDA's SPEAR missiles being launched

One of MBDA's SPEAR missiles being launched - Credit: Archant

Anti-weapons campaigners are involved in a week of action to try to prevent bombs and missiles – including those built in Stevenage – being sold to countries with questionable human rights records.

Campaign Against Arms Trade protestors are demonstrating outside London’s ExCel centre where the Defence and Security Equipment International Fair is taking place until Friday.

Six of the countries invited to DSEI, including Saudi Arabia, have been included on the UK Government’s own watch list of human rights abusers and numerous firms including Stevenage’s MBDA use the biennial fair as a chance to promote their weapons.

Representatives of some 56 countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and Bahrain were invited to attend DSEI — which is run jointly by the Defence and Security Organisation, the section of the Government’s Department for International Trade which assists weapons firms with their international exports.

Six Hills Way based MBDA is a subsidiary of BAE systems, the world’s third largest arms producer.

It has also applied to supply weapons to nations including South Korea, Turkey and Oman.

Its Stevenage-built cruise missiles, Storm Shadow, and ground attack Brimstone missiles are known to have been used by Saudi Arabia in its controversial war in Yemen.

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CAAT says 56 countries have been invited to the event including a “range of regimes with appalling human rights records such as Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates and Vietnam”.

Andrew Smith for CAAT said: “This list includes a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. They will be greeted by civil servants and Government ministers who are there for one reason only: to promote weapons. It’s impossible to promote human rights and democracy while arming and supporting authoritarian regimes and tyrants.”

Caroline Lucas MP, who is co-leader of the Green Party, and recently asked the parliamentary question about weapons sales, added: “DSEI is a dark stain on our country’s already tarnished reputation. It’s time that this festival of violence was shut down for good – and for the UK to engage in peace-building rather than trying to cement itself as the world’s weapons dealer.”

MBDA has exported at least 1,500 missiles from the UK to Saudi Arabia since 2008.

In March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition commenced a military campaign in Yemen, targeting Houthis and allied rebel groups backing the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. This military campaign has involved substantial numbers of air strikes against a wide variety of targets.

Some 10,000 civilians have died in the war to date with more than three million people having been displaced.

In July, the High Court ruled that arms exports could continue to Saudi Arabia after a legal challenge led by CAAT, despite growing opposition on humanitarian grounds.

MBDA says all its sales are based on ethical decision-making. It states on its website: “Our reputation is based on integrity and the respect of the laws and regulations – both in our domestic countries and in export countries where we operate.

“Many of our activities are not governed by laws or regulations, in which case the principle of integrity must govern our conduct. It is our personal responsibility to apply this principle at all times.”

More than 100 activists have been arrested by police at this week’s arms fair.