Special trade envoy Lord Risby is off on a trip to Algeria this week following on from a trip by Cameron earlier on in the year. The trip is happening just before the controversial DSEI arms fair takes place in London. A number of groups, including us, Campaign Against Arms Trade and Algeria Solidarity Campaign have written to Baroness Warsi as the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister responsible for human rights asking for assurances that Risby’s visit will not include arms sales to the dictatorship.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, Algeria is in the top 50 most authoritarian regimes in the world, with damning reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. BP is among the largest foreign investors in Algeria, and Britain has identified Algerian natural gas as a strategic interest. This, combined with militarisation and tension in the region, has created a dangerous gas-arms nexus. Research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade shows nearly £300 million worth of weapons were sold to Algeria since 2008.
UK arms sales to Algeria are just as scandalous as recent revelations about sales to the Syrian regime. Lord Risby shouldn’t be promoting UK self-interest in Algeria if it means enabling the regime to brutally repress local struggles for democracy and dignity.
For more information about protests and mobilisations against the DSEI arms fair in London, check out the Stop The Arms Fair website. The full text of the letter to Baroness Warsi is below
Dear Baroness Warsi
We are writing to you, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister responsible for human rights, to call for an end to UK arms deals with the Algerian regime.
On the 8-10 September the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to Algeria, Lord Risby, will be visiting the country as the head of an important trade delegation. We want immediate assurance that arms companies will not be included in this delegation and that no arms deals will be made as a result of Lord Risby’s visit. As the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister responsible for human rights we hope you will take a personal interest in the types of deals Lord Risby’s delegation will be arranging.
We must assume that Algeria will be again invited to DSEi 2013 (one of the biggest events on the international arms fair circuit that will take place on 10-13th September at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands) as it was to all previous events in the past decade. It is likely that as a direct result of this trip, arms will be sold to the Algerian dictatorship, which will later be used against the Algerian people, as it happened in the 90s brutal civil war.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s recently published annual report on the state of global democracy for 2012, Algeria is in the top 50 most authoritarian regimes in the world. Moreover, damning reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN Watch put Algeria among the worst offenders when it comes to human rights*. Despite lifting the state of emergency that was in place since 1992, Algeria continues to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and on practising religious beliefs. Use of excessive force in dispersing some demonstrations and harassment of human rights defenders is still ongoing.
The Algerian people are fighting for freedom, dignity and democracy in their everyday life and ignoring their struggle by colluding with a dictatorial regime is unacceptable. We understand that Lord Risby’s visit is intended to promote British interests in Algeria, but this cannot justify turning a blind eye to authoritarian practices and human right abuses.
We urge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to rethink Britain’s relation with Algiers and we call on the UK government to stop doing business and arming the Algerian dictatorship. This would significantly benefit democracy and human rights in Algeria and would respect the wishes and demands of Algerian people.
We are looking forward to hearing from you and in particular on getting an assurance that no arms deals will be made as a result of Lord Risby’s trip as all arms sales to the government send a message of international acceptability.