UK firms linked to alleged war crimes tout weapons in UAE
Major British weapons manufacturers linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen have been touting their products at the Middle East’s biggest arms show in the United Arab Emirates, to the dismay of opposition politicians and human rights campaigners.
The presence of sales representatives from BAE Systems, Raytheon and MBDA at International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2017) in Abu Dhabi this week has prompted outrage, coming just weeks after the High Court in London heard calls for a halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia over alleged human rights violations in Yemen by the kingdom and its allies, which include the UAE.
IDEX 2017, which concluded on Thursday, is organised in association with the UAE armed forces and held under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the country's president.
According to promotional materials, the official delegations represented more than 150 countries and included a UK pavilion organised by ADS, the trade body for the arms industry in Britain. It was also attended by the DIT DSO, a UK civil service body that exists to promote arms exports.
All the major firms that arm Saudi Arabia and its allies were at the event displaying weapons, many of which have been used in air strikes in Yemen, including the Eurofighter jet.
Middle East Eye has also learned that BAE Systems used the event to showcase the British-made Hawk Advanced Trainer, including presenting a scale model fitted with Brimstone missiles and Pavey IV bombs that have been used by Saudi forces over Yemen.
It is unclear whether the controversial weapons can be fitted to the training aircraft, and it is unlikely that this would be the case - but the display comes after Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase 30 of the jets in February 2016. Analysts say the training jets are vital for Saudi Arabia to train its pilots for action over Yemen.
Also in attendance was MBDA, which makes the Storm Shadow and Brimstone missile, and Raytheon, which makes the Paveway IV bombs.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed last year that the Royal Saudi Air Force has used the British-supplied missiles and the Scottish-built Paveway IV guided bombs against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
They are among the most powerful weapons in the UK’s arsenal and have been deployed in several conflicts by the Royal Air Force. A defence source told MEE the weapons are “battle proven” and “very attractive to the Saudi and UAE air forces operating in Yemen”.
The display of British military hardware in the UAE comes at a time of ongoing international condemnation of civilian deaths caused by Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen.
According to reports from IDEX 2017, British arms firms are continuing to concentrate on arms exports to the Middle East, despite a partial US arms embargo against Saudi Arabia implemented by former President Barack Obama in December 2016, and an outstanding challenge in British courts.
'Profit from destruction'
Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said many of the companies soliciting business in Abu Dhabi are the same firms that have “profited from the destruction of Yemen”.
“Events like IDEX don't make a war-torn region any safer, all they do is put even more arms into the hands of repressive regimes while providing photo ops and political support to the brutal Emirati dictatorship,” Smith told Middle East Eye.
BAE Systems, Raytheon and MBDA have repeatedly said they comply with all UK and US legislation governing arms exports to the region. They also say that their weapons are "guided" or "precision" munitions and are designed to help avoid civilian casualties.
Nonetheless, the role of British arms companies at the event has prompted renewed calls for a halt to arms exports to Saudi Arabia, this time coming from the Liberal Democrats.
Tom Brake MP, the opposition party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, told MEE: “The weapons on display at IDEX, many of which have been deployed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to murderous effect, must serve as a chilling reminder to the UK government of its obligation to suspend arms sales to Saudi.”
Campaigners have also raised concerns that a British government minister was sent to speak at the event.
Despite claims of human rights violations in the UAE, the UK’s minister for defence procurement, Harriett Baldwin MP, told journalists and delegates at the show that that she was “proud” to lead a delegation of almost 100 UK companies.