Chemring Group and IWM

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Chemring Group was the sponsor of the Annual Defence Dinner 2012, a major annual networking event for the arms trade held at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, on Wednesday 23rd May 2012. Chemring has sponsored this annual event at IWM in previous years – at least since 2010.

In the literature promoting the Annual Defence Dinner 2012, Chemring, depicts itself as a provider of products “predominantly (to) protect military people and platforms, providing insurance against a constantly changing threat.”

However, over half of Chemring’s revenues derive from munitions and pyrotechnics. Explosive material and technology, ammunition, grenades, tear gas and small arms are easily put to offensive use, both in aggressive application and threat, when sold and used without basic humane judgement or controls.

Chemring’s weapons continue to be marketed and sold to clients who carry out human rights abuses. Chemring attended the LAVEX 2009 arms fair in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. The corporations website identifies the Middle East as a destination for a number of its munition and weapon products. The Saudi Arabian regime is a significant market and Chemring is officially associated with Saudi Eraad Defense Systems, a Saudi Arabian company that provides “professional and discreet services as in-country support/marketing company.”

As reported by the Independent newspaper in December 2011, Chemring’s tear gas cannisters were put to use against Tahrir Square protesters by the Egyptian security forces in 2011. The effects on protesters, exacerbated, it has been suggested, by toxicity brought on by the age of the gas (some cannisters dated from 1995), inflicted convulsions, burning and asphyxiation on protesters.

Chemring, as well as the British government which licences such sales, cannot not be aware of the misery and abuse that their actions are enabling. For example, Saudi Arabia’s repression of its population is very well documented. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s own human rights report cites Saudi Arabia as a country “of concern” due to its human rights and civil liberties abuses. The FCO says that the number of executions are “alarming”. Women cannot vote or play sport. All public demonstrations are banned; those who have defied this with peaceful protest have found themselves charged, imprisoned and sometimes tortured.

The repression endured by the Saudi population is exemplified by the case of Mohammed Salama. Human Rights Watch report that he has been detained without charge or trial since April 2012 having been arrested for posting personal Twitter comments critical of certain interpretations of Islamic text. He remains in indefinite detention with other peaceful protesters and activists.

For Chemring to provide such regimes with weapons and technology is to implicate itself in the heinous daily crimes, ensuring that people live in a constant nightmare. The Imperial War Museum, as a public museum dedicated to recording the true effects of warfare, must take a humane stance and not itself become complicit by taking money or associating with such activity.

Yet, Chemring’s dealings with the Middle East are not its only stain. The company provides technology and explosives for United States UAVS or drones. Their Norwegian subsidiary, Chemring Nobel, provides explosive substances for Hellfire rockets fired from US drones.

The US’ covert drone attack campaign in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia has claimed the lives of many innocent civilians. Whilst defenders assert drone attacks as being precise, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report hundreds of civilian deaths, including scores of children. The UN has condemned the lack of monitoring by the US and launched an investigation into this “collateral damage”.

Moreover, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that drone attacks have targeted rescuers and funeral goers. The claim of precise attack is undermined by such follow-up attacks when people gather to deal with the aftermath of an initial attack. Additionally, the US carry out what are known as “signature strikes”; whereby victims are identified for assassination not by specific intelligence about their identity but merely on the basis of their behaviour and activities.

The US administration has refused to release the precise legal justification for their actions. Until recently, they refused to confirm or deny the existence of the campaign. Now, they defend more generally on the basis that they are involved in a worldwide conflict against terrorists – there is not time for judicial involvement in this precise strategy. However, many independent legal experts refute this. The US is not at war with Yemen or Pakistan, it does not face imminent threat and therefore is violating international law by carrying out extra-judicial assassinations.

Beyond the legal arguments, the devastation on innocent people is far-reaching. The threat of drones hangs over these people on a constant basis, interfering with their daily lives; making them afraid to meet or travel. A joint study by the law schools of Stanford University and New York University, named, Living Under Drones, found high levels of trauma, including insomnia, nervous breakdown and severe anxiety amongst populations living under the threat. The study found that people avoid attending the funerals of victims or even providing assistance in the aftermath of an attack in fear of a follow-up strike.

Conclusion

There is a legitimate argument for a regulated and controlled arms trade. However, the status quo is a far cry from this. British weapons and technology are actively sold to some of the most brutal regimes and enable devastating human rights abuses, including by our own government and allies.

The global arms trade and its profiteers are, at least, amoral and wilfully blind about the misery being enabled. The Imperial War Museum must not be so callous. The Museum should not associate with arms manufacturers or traders and should cease to accept event hire contracts, such as the Annual Defence Dinner, sponsored and attended by such corporations as Chemring Group.

The Museum also receives donations from corporations whose human rights records are even worse than that of Chemring Group, such as BAE Systems. I urge the Trustees to be humane and cease to accept such blood money.

If basic morality is not sufficient reason to disassociate, the conflict of interests created by taking money from war profiteers must be. IWM cannot be intellectually free in its duty of recording the human consequences of war if it is financially reliant on war profiteers.

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