Algeria visit by UK trade envoy raises concerns ahead of London arms fair

Civil society raises concerns with FCO over arms and human rights

A coalition of human rights NGOs have written to Baroness Warsi at the FCO in advance of the visit of trade envoy Lord Risby to Algeria, raising concerns about potential arms sales to the regime. With new revelations about sales of chemicals that are components of nerve gas to Syria, there are fears that weapons sold to Algeria will also be used against the domestic population who are “fighting for freedom, dignity and democracy in their everyday life.”

The groups write in the letter that they “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.”

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. Yet Algeria was listed as a “priority market” by UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation in 2010/2011. Research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, shows nearly £300 million worth of weapons were sold to Algeria since 2008.

Lord Risby’s visit comes just ahead of the controversial DSEi 2013 (Defence & Security Equipment International) arms fair in London (10-13th September). The letter to Baroness Warsi warns that Risby’s trip must not be used to secure arms sales to Algeria at DSEi.

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.

Hamza Hamouchene of the Algeria Solidarity Campaign said:

“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.”

Emma Hughes of Platform said:

“While salivating over Algeria’s natural gas reserves, the UK is conveniently turning a blind eye to repression and human rights abuses. We should be promoting democratically-controlled renewable energy rather than  arms sales to authoritarian regimes .”

Yacine Zaid, an Algerian trade-unionist and human rights activist said:

“Our society is suffocated by significant restrictions on basic rights such as freedom of assembly and the recognition of independent trade unions, especially in the private sector. There is an ongoing and systematic repression and judicial harassment of trade-unionists and human right activists.”

Kaye Stearman from Campaign Against Arms Trade said:

“The UK has licensed weapons which are used in internal repression despite Algeria’s closed political system and terrible human rights record. Just one arms licence has been refused – and that was back in 2008. We should not be promoting or selling weapons to this regime – and the government should not be inviting them to weapons fairs like DSEi.”

For more information/comment, contact: Hamza Hamouchene at [email protected]

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Lord Risby is the Prime Minister’s Special Trade Envoy to Algeria. He has already been involved in promoting energy deals with repressive regimes, taking part in a trade mission to Azerbaijan in 2012.

The coalition of groups sending the letter consists of Platform, Algeria Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against Arms Trade, London Gezi and East London Against Arms Fairs

The letter text reads as:

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.

[email protected]

For more work on Algeria, Oil, Gas and Human Rights, please check the platform website: https://platformlondon.org/