Sophia Lysaczenko will appear in court on 14 February. She is one of 43 people standing trial over attempts to disrupt the Defence and Security Equipment International fair in September.
I was only 15-years-old when millions of people marched against the military invasion of Iraq. Since then it feels like I have watched our world become more and more violent.
Last September, I finally decided to stand up, be counted and resist the escalation of war and pollution in our society. I am one of thousands that took action, and one of the 43 who stand trail against Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), one of the biggest arms fairs in the world.
The DSEI is hosted by the ExCel Centre London every two years – with the full support of the UK government. The fair is a largely unregulated event, attended by the world’s biggest arms companies – many of which have a track record of selling immoral and illegal equipment – and representatives from a litany of repressive regimes, who are there to browse sophisticated weapons.
Every year, UK arms companies sell billions of pounds worth of weapons to dictatorships and human rights abusing regimes including Saudi, Turkey, Bahrain and Colombia. From 2010 to 2016 the UK government licensed arms sales to 20 of the 30 countries on its own human rights watch list.
The impact can be deadly. The UK has licensed £4.6 billion pounds worth of arms to the Saudi Arabian government since it began bombing Yemen three years ago. The bombardment has left 17 million people (60% of the population) in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and a further 7 million people in need of assistance.
Leaders and representatives of regimes like Saudi should never be welcomed in the UK, and definitely not invited to shop for weapons at arms fairs like DSEI. The UK should not provide them with the means to cause such destruction. Yet, Downing Street has seen a ‘sharp rise’ in arming human rights abusers around the world.
I object to such an unjust and illegal event taking place in the UK, so I joined groups like ‘Campaign Against The Arms Trade‘ and ‘Stop the Arms Fair‘ in taking action to shut it down. As part of a week long disruption, to hinder the setup for the DSEI, I joined in with thousands of other concerned people from around the UK in blockading the access road to the ExCel.
I saw a chance where the police, who were acting as security for the DSEI, wouldn’t see me pull an extremely heavy concrete filled suitcase into the road. I lay down and ‘locked on’ my arm to a fellow comrade, inside a tube in the suitcase. We shut down the road, stopping deliveries to the fair. A special cutting police service took hours to pull us apart.
Over the course of the week, ‘Shut Down The Arms Fair’ saw over 100 arrests, though many charges have already been dropped. Rumours from staff inside the event suggested we had collectively delayed the event by a few days.
The cutting out process scared me, but I was proud to be there. I may have given up some of my freedoms in travelling to certain countries, or working with children, but I am more concerned for our future. Not only does the arms industry cause mass humanitarian destruction, but it also contributes to climate change.
Last year, Former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned that ‘the next 3 years will be crucial to stopping the worst effects of global warming’. Our entire planet faces the effects and potential risk of runaway climate change. We should be recognising and supporting climate and conflict refugees, instead we have increased free movement for weapons.
The impact of arms sales on our environment is a subject not widely spoken about, but arms require large quantities of uranium, oil, jet fuel, and harmful chemicals. The use of arms creates immense pollution damage to the environment and it is yet to be directly addressed within the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Shockingly the UK spends 25 times more money on weapons research than renewables. Only radical change will turn our focus around in time.
Over the coming weeks, 43 of us will be on trial for our role in aiming to shut DSEI down. I will be appealing to the court, telling them that DSEI is an immoral and illegal event that does not respect human rights or our shared planet.
We have a collective responsibility to raise our voices given that UK politicians are complicit in the destruction, displacement and mass murders of thousands of innocent people. Those of us who took action are hopeful that as protests increase and awareness is spread, we can ensure that even more people realise the central role that governments like the UK play in the global arms trade.
Sophia Lysaczenko will appear in court on 14 February. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade is organising a court solidarity demonstration outside Stratford Magistrates Court at 9am.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.