The Legal Case Against the Saudi-Led Intervention in Yemen

April 7, 2016 by Andrew Smith · in Militarisation.

It has been over a year since the Saudi bombardment of Yemen began. In that time a humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding, killing over 6000 people and leaving millions without access to vital infrastructure, clean water or electricity, leaving the country on “the precipice of disaster.” The destruction on the ground has exacerbated the ongoing civil war between Yemeni forces and Houthi rebels, helping to create a power vacuum that has allowed the expansion of Al-Qaeda and ISIS with reports describing the latter making serious territorial gains, such as around the port city of Mukalla.

The price has also been felt in Saudi Arabia, where mortars and rockets being fired by Houthi groups in Yemen are also killing civilians. Saudi sources claim 375 civilians have been killed since hostilities began. The Saudi regime has said that the conflict is being downscaled, but the death toll is increasing. It claims that it is only striking legitimate military targets, and that much of its work is to spread humanitarian aid, but many of the sites being hit are civilian. A recent air strike on a busy market place killed over 100 people, with witnesses reporting two missiles being fired from the air. According to UN officials 22 children were killed in the strike. The violence has been rightfully condemned by a range of campaign groups and NGOs, with a growing number of voices suggesting the intervention has not just been immoral, it has also been illegal.

In July 2015 the European Parliament passed a motion to “Condemn the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the naval blockade it has imposed on Yemen.” The motion went on to state that “air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law, which requires all possible steps to be taken to prevent or minimise civilian casualties.” One month later, Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief at the United Nations, reported to the UN Security Council, that the “scale of human suffering [in Yemen] is almost incomprehensible.” Condemning “attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure” he asserted that the Saudi attacks are “in clear contravention of international humanitarian law.”

These condemnations have been supported by a growing number of NGOs. Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have all accused Saudi Arabia of breaking international humanitarian law. Amnesty International and Saferworld also recently commissioned a legal opinion from Philip Sands QC, which accused Saudi forces of breaking international humanitarian law. Since then, both the European Parliament and the UN have taken their concerns further. This January, a UN panel accused Saudi Arabia of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets. Its 51 page report “documented 119 sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law” and reported starvation being used as a war tactic. The report concluded by stating that “not a single humanitarian pause to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people has been fully observed by any Yemeni party or by the coalition.”

Last month, despite a concentrated lobbying operation from Saudi Arabia, parliamentarians in Brussels went further, voting overwhelmingly to support an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. The vote was not legally binding, but it sent a strong political statement and set an important precedent. Commenting on the destruction of the first of three hospital facilities it has lost in the last year, Hassan Boucenine, Country Director of MSF, said “the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided [the Coalition] with all of our GPS coordinates.” Since then MSF has announced the closure of its fourth and final hospital in the country, following air strikes in the area. Despite all of these widespread and credible criticisms and allegations, there is no solid evidence of Saudi forces taking any meaningful action to minimize harm to civilians, or making any serious attempts to investigate the deadly consequences of the bombing.

To this backdrop you would hope that the international community would be applying pressure to the Saudi government and calling for meaningful peace negotiations. Unfortunately the exact opposite has happened, with governments like the UK fuelling the devastation by providing political support and selling large quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, made the UK’s position very clear from the outset, when he pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” Unfortunately he has stayed true to his word.

The UK government has licensed over £2.8 billion of arms to Saudi since air strikes began last March. UK fighter jets and bombs have been central to the bombing campaign, with Eurofighter aircraft taking part in air strikes and UK-supplied Paveway IV bombs being dropped from the skies. Last year the UK sent bombs that were originally earmarked for the RAF to Saudi forces to be used against Yemen. UK arms export law is very clear. It says that licences for military equipment should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that it “might” be used in violation of international humanitarian law. By any reasonable interpretation these criteria should surely prohibit all arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen. The support has gone beyond arming Saudi forces. Earlier this year, the Saudi Foreign Minister confirmed that UK military personnel have been in Saudi control rooms assisting with the bombing and helping to train Saudi forces.

Air strike in Sana'a. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Air strike in Sana’a. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In response to growing concerns, the House of Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls has called an investigation into the use of UK arms in the conflict. The first sessions have taken place and the Committee is expected to report later this year. The government’s response has been to discard the growing body of evidence and argue that it has not seen any sufficient evidence to conclude that Saudi is breaching international law. It argues that the UK is in constant dialogue with the Saudis while parroting the tired old line that it has some of the most ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ arms export controls in the world. One of the arguments for this approach is that the UK can use a positive influence over Saudi forces and ensure that they are following international law. This is an implicit theme when government spokespeople use lines such as “We regularly raise with Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthi the need to comply with International Humanitarian Law in Yemen.” However there is no evidence that the UK has ever reined in Saudi aggression. When it comes to arms sales the power in the relationship lies almost entirely with the buyer.

Of course the relationship is nothing new. For decades now successive UK governments, of all political colours, have given an uncritical level of support to the Saudi regime. One outcome of this partnership has been the high level of integration between UK and Saudi military programmes. Around 240 UK Ministry of Defence civil servants and military personnel work to support the contracts through the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Programme (MODSAP) and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project (SANGCOM).

The last time the UK relationship with Saudi was put under the microscope as much as it is today was in 2006, when the Serious Fraud office began looking into corruption relating to arms sales to Riyadh. The investigation threatened to unearth a litany of embarrassing details, but, after a concerted lobbying effort, including interventions by Tony Blair and the Attorney General, it was dropped. Shortly after the investigation was stopped a major deal on fighter jets was agreed, one that would be worth over £4.4 billion. This pattern of trading arms deals and political favours has only continued. In the last few months serious allegations have emerged that the UK helped to lobby behind the scenes to secure Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council; a membership which would be laughable if the on-going consequences weren’t so serious. Furthermore, it is perhaps no surprise that Saudi was the only major state with the death penalty to be omitted from the UK’s anti-death penalty strategy.

Earlier this month, CAAT and our lawyers at Leigh Day submitted a claim for a Judicial Review into the arms sales. We are calling on the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia while it holds a full review into whether the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. It is likely to be a long process, but it is also a very important one. The action is specific to Yemen, but it will expose the hypocrisies at the heart of UK foreign policy, particularly concerning human rights. The longer that this hypocrisy goes on the more victims there will be. If UK arms export law is worth anything then the government must finally stop arming Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT on Twitter at @CAATuk.


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Arms Fair Protesters Win Court Battle


A YORK man is speaking out against the arms trade, days after he was cleared of obstructing a public highway in a protest.

Tom Franklin, a Green party activist from Clifton, was among eight defendants acquitted by a district judge at Stratford Magistrate’s Court in London last week.

The group had been arrested at the Excel Centre – the site of the DSEI arms fair last September. Facing charges of “obstructing a public highway” – for lying down in a path of a lorry taking a tank into the centre – they argued they were preventing much more serious crimes like the sale of illegal weapons, or legal arms being sold to regimes known for human rights abuses.

It was an argument District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted, before he acquitted and freed all eight defendants.

Mr Franklin said: “I think this shows the seriousness of the offences [of arms dealing], and the complete lack of anything that the government has been doing to prevent the sales of torture equipment and legal weapons which are then used for human rights abuses.”

In the days before the fair was due to open, Mr Franklin had been at protests on the site when he and other campaigners spotted a low loader delivering a tank to the centre.

“I thought ‘if I believe in this stuff I can’t just stand by, I have to do something’ – so I went and lay in front of the tank.”

The protesters were arrested and carried away by police – the first time 57 year old Mr Franklin had ever been arrested.

In his judgement, the district judge said: “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant, which in each case was expressed with great sincerity, as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI.

“These defendants decisions were not irrational, impulsive decisions taken on the spur of the moment but decisions that were reached after the consideration of and attempts at other methods of bringing the issues to the attention of the government and the relevant UK law enforcement agencies.”

The case was heard at a magistrate’s court, meaning the ruling cannot set a precedent for future cases, but Parliament is now planning an enquiry into what happens at the arms fair.

Mr Franklin added: “What it really needs to be is an enquiry the authorities’ lack of enforcement into what happens at the arms fair.”

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Day 5 – the day of Judgement

Friday April 15 2016


We had been required to attend at 10:30 for 11:00, but did not go into court until 11:45 when the judge had finished drafting his judgement.

Prior to that we had a merry time being photographed, hanging out, working out what we might do afterwards and all that type of thing.

The judge made clear that what he would be reading today was an outline of his judgement and that some of the arguments needed to be written out in more detail before he finished, but that it had the main conclusions and meant that we could finish the case today.

Before the judgement he made some comments and the very poor case management, some of which lay with the court for not providing the correct papers on time, not dealing properly with the case witness requirements etc.  There should have been a pre-trial review 4-6 weeks before the hearing to ensure that everything was in place, and what was not already in place would be.  The prosecution was at fault for failing to provide what was requested at discovery, for providing a skeleton argument for a defence that was not being put instead of the defences that were being put, for not telling the court that they needed to play CCTV so the hearing could be scheduled in the correct court and for not ensuring that they could play the videos in the court (one of the defence team had to use their computer to play the prosecution videos – but then they were helpful to us).  He also said Ms Daly commendable but not as detailed or coherent as he would wish in her arguments.  He was annoyed with the defence for failing to return to court when the prosecution did not hand over items in discovery, for late delivery of exhibits and skeleton arguments and producing evidence during the trial.  In particular, he mentioned the map showing the road is a private road without having shared it with the court or prosecution in advance and then the prosecution for introducing photos conceding the point the following day, with the result that the question of whether it is a private road was not properly explored.

Finally, he criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for not providing Ms Daly with any support when she was against four briefs and a defendant in person and there was so much later material.

In short it was only by luck that we finished in accordance with the timetable, not good case management.

Next he turned to the question of whether he should consider our other defences even if he were to acquit us on the grounds of prevention of crime, and ruled that he did not have to; in part as it would probably make little difference as to whether there was an appeal.

He pointed out there were four defences that were being offered, and the prosecution would have to show that they all failed, that is the prosecution would have to show that we were:
1.     Not acting to prevent a crime;
2.     Unreasonable – that is the nature of alleged obstruction was not reasonable in terms of our rights under articles (9), 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
3.     In the cases of Lisa Butler and Susannah Mengesha whether they were on a highway, as the prosecution agreed that it was a private road;
4.     Causing an obstruction or as we claimed vehicles were able to move around us.

His judgement only addresses the first question, of prevention of crime.

Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states a person may use such force as is reasonable and that a person’s belief must be accepted subjectively, and it must be assumed that the crime would happen without a successful intervention so long as the defendant honestly believes that the crime would occur and that the force used was reasonable.

It is important to take into account the degree of the evil to be prevented and what other possible action might be used to prevent it.  Section 76 of the Criminal Justice Act 2008 is only directly concerned with force against the person.  Ms Daly claimed we were not using force and therefore the section is not applicable; and therefore would need to rely self-help which only available in most limited circumstances, as these activities are normally reserved to the police, armed forces etc.  One is normally expected to call in the police and not take law into one’s own hands.  The Law takes deepest suspicion of self-help.

The prosecutor also referred to failure of the action, which was foreseeable and therefore to illegitimate and might open the floodgates to any action against anything.

Mr Payter dealt with the point commendably – force need not be against the person. If it is lawful to use force, then it would be very peculiar if one was not allowed to use less.  The law is a partial codification, not a complete codification.  The judge prefers Mr Payter’s analysis and therefore it does not preclude a section 3 or common law defence.

When it came to self-help the judge said that there was clear evidence of unlawful action which was not challenged by prosecution. As a result, there was a compelling inference that similar crimes were occurring at DSEI 2015. Further, there was clear and compelling evidence that the authorities were taking no action, and those who complained were not taken seriously.

As to inconvenience. He could not accept that collateral inconvenience renders it illegitimate and no sources were cited by Ms Daly to suggest other.  The judge argued that failure cannot make it illegitimate or a frail elderly person who ineffectually grabs a thief’s arm could be prosecuted for assault whilst someone who punched the thief could not.

Finally, he accepted Mr Payter’s three stage test, and that it applies to all eight defendants.  That is the prosecution need to show that:
1.     We did not intend to prevent a crime;
2.     We did not believe the force we used was necessary;
3.     The force that we used was not reasonable.

He was not sure on any of these questions and therefore he had to decide for defendants.  We were free to go.

He also made an award of costs on our behalf.

There was cheering in court, and much celebration outside.

 And finally, just some of the coverage elsewhere:

• The Guardian: Court dismisses charges against London arms fair protesters
• The Independent: Protesters who blockaded London arms trade fair acquitted after judge sees evidence of illegal weapons on sale
• Hampstead and Highate Express: Eight acquitted including former Chairman of Camden Greens as Judge accepts they were trying to prevent illegal arms dealing at DSEI fair
• Campaigners Cleared Over Arms Fair Protest Against Sales To Authoritarian Regimes
and to sign up to stop the next DSEI arms fair in 2017

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Day 4 of the DSEI trial

Friday, April 15, 2016

Everyone was in very good cheer this morning and ready for another day in court.

We started with expert evidence from Kat Hobbs, who is Local outreach coordinator for CAAT (The Campaign Against the Arms Trade), an organisation which was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize in 2012.

She discussed how DSEI is organised Clarendon and the UK Trade and Investment, a government department to support UK Trade; but 54% of their staff are devoted to working on defence and security, and a key part of that work is organising and supporting arms fairs around the world.

To editorialise I find it shocking and appalling that over half of the body to promote UK trade is devoted to the arms industry, no wonder other industries are struggling.

Arms fairs are “meet and great” events for relationship building and so that customers can see what they might be buying.  DSEI is one of largest in the world, which showcases everything (air, sea and land weapons).  61 countries formally invited by the government, and many more are invited by Clarendon who advertise it as a “Place to do business”.  Of those 61 14 are classified as being authoritarian and 6 are at war, including Saudi Arabia; A country on the list of those raising most concern for human rights abuse.

The memorandum of understanding between the UK government and Clarendon says that the government will chaperone delegates around the fair.  Asked whether deals happen at the fair she pointed out that suites are provided for private discussions, so it is impossible to know everything that goes on.  However, at least one contract signed at fair between Turkish government and Lockheed Martin.

Moving on to illegality at the fair, she pointed to the Pakistan government promoting cluster bombs in 2009, which was discovered by civil society; not by either DSEI organisers or government agencies, with the result that the company was ejected, but no other action was taken, and they were allowed to return in 2011 when they were even more blatantly marketing them.  At another stand a journalist from the Independent newspaper was told quite openly that the objects on sale were for torture.

Kat also pointed out that there is a clear contradiction between selling arms to a country and then complaining about human rights abuse, especially as legal arms can be used illegally.  The government claims that they will not license where they are likely to be used for internal repression or external aggression, however they have been increasing numbers of arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia during Yemen conflict; even to the extent that is a marker against Saudi Arabia to more actively promote arms to them.

The UK government had actual knowledge of breaches of human rights law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen since at least May 2015 (ie well before DSEI), yet since start of conflict they have licensed at least £2.8 billion of arms.  Saudi Arabia is by far the largest consumer of British weapons and we are the largest supplier to them.  There has been a significant increase in the weapons sold since start of war which implies that they are being used in the conflict.

The attitude of the government to enforcement is extremely poor and has worsened with current government.  The government has never been interested in enforcing arms controls, and the parliamentary committee on arms control didn’t meet for the first nine months of the current parliament and the government needed to be pressed to allow it to start.  It is also now harder for independent observers to get into the fair;

For instance, Ollie Sprague was not allowed in this year.

Bahrain has bought £45 million of UK weapons since uprising in 2011. Whereas they only spent £6 million in the previous three years,

The Turkish government has not signed the convention on cluster weapons and have a stock pile of them.  They have carried out numerous human rights violations including collective punishment in Kurdish region; which have included curfews, shoot-to-kill, shelling of communities using Tanks, shells, ammunition supplied by Britain.

Despite this Turkey was the sole international partner at the arms fair and had their own tent and delegation, which amongst other things exhibited military tear gas

Next on the stand was Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for rights and democracy (BIRD).  In 2011 Mr Alwadaei was imprisoned and tortured for taking part in a peaceful protest calling for reform.  BIRD is a small organisation that monitors human rights in Bahrain, The UK government’s relationship with Bahrain and, works with other human rights organisations active in Bahrain. Bahrain is a hereditary absolute monarchy and all important ministers are family members.  Anyone calling for reforms imprisoned and tortured.

In 2011 there was a massive protest movement, the biggest in Bahrain’s history.  Many thousands protested and were crushed with force which included forces from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed.

UK is one of key arms suppliers to Bahrain.  In 2011 tear gas canisters and armed vehicles being used Saudi Arabian forces in Bahrain came from the UK.  The tear gas was weaponised, and used against peaceful protesters causing many of the deaths.  Excessive use of tear gas was also used as collective punishment, by using it not just against protestors but on whole surrounding areas.

Shot guns and buckshot have been used against protestor, including from very close range. Dozens of people, including a 14 year old have been killed by shotgun

Mr Alwadaei has himself been exposed to gunshots.

Despite this Bahrain was invited to DSEI in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

In October 2014 the High Court quashed the diplomatic immunity of Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa because of allegations of torture.  Despite this he has been a regular visitor to the UK since then, including in Oct 2014, but has never been arrested.  Showing the failure of the government to take action.

Working with HR watch.  2015 listed 14? Cases of torture and stated that the use of torture is systematic.

According to Amnesty Bahrain has imprisoned  21 high profile people for leading the protest.  And recorded cases of harsh torture, including of human rights defenders.  Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry: (BICI) report, commissioned by king, showed that the government was using torture and that confessions were extracted by torture resulting in life imprisonment and worse.

Bahrain one of the highest percentages of political prisoners, with 3,000-4,000 political in prisoners out of a population of 480,000.  Reporters Without Borders places Bahrain at 163 (alongside Somalia) in terms of a free press.

We then moved on to character references.  And all those presented showed that people were excellent and wonderful people; and I can assure that the others are.  Unfortunately, because my character references did not include the date of birth of the witnessed the prosecution would not accept them as they could not check that they were people of good character (ie not criminals).  My grateful thanks to Natalie Bennet, Sian Berry, Margaret Taylor, Juliet Goldbart and Malcolm Ryan for providing them.  They certainly made my head swell with statements like “He has a great commitment to the work of our party and its core principles of sustainability, social justice, peace and non-violence. I cannot vouch highly enough for his character and the upstanding nature of his work in the service of the community and the Green Party” from Sian and “I know that Tom has a concern and passion about the impact of promoting the arms trade and I share this concern which lead me to protest against the London arms fair myself, an event I consider to be against the security of the people of Britain.” From Natalie.

Fortunately, everyone seemed to agree that we were all of good standing anyhow and that as the judge put it to Susannah Mengesha, who had not produced any, “they are like one quarter of one cherry on the top of the cake in this case”.

Because the judge only wanted a summary of the statements which were gone through very quickly, my notes are poor so the following is merely an attempt at reconstruction.

Angela Ditchfield: At university while others were out drinking Angela was highly focused on what she wanted to do – to fight social injustice and be kind.  She is a stalwart of the local church, and cares passionately about justice and supporting families in Uganda

Javier Garate is trustworthy, truthful and committed to his principles including to resolution of conflict without violence.  He works to scale down arms trade.

Mr Rankin has never hurt anyone, is reliable and responsible and has campaigned against NATO activity.

Luis Javier Tinoco Torrejon is engaged in peace and solidarity and is always respectful to those who he works against, so very surprised to hear he had been arrested.

Angela Butler’s witnesses are impressed by the integrity of her moral belief, and she cares deeply about others and is kindest most sensitive and honest person the witness knows.

With that the defence closed and we moved on to legal arguments.

To be honest these were sometimes difficult to follow, especially the prosecution one.  In part because she was not always very coherent, she was also interrupted by the judge for clarification many times and she would just refer to something I don’t know (such as section 76 of the Criminal Justice Act 2008).  I will quote one part of this as there was a heated discussion between the judge and the prosecutor over what it might mean.

76Reasonable force for purposes of self-defence etc.

(3) The question whether the degree of force used by D was reasonable in the circumstances is to be decided by reference to the circumstances as D believed them to be, and subsections (4) to (8) also apply in connection with deciding that question.

(4) If D claims to have held a particular belief as regards the existence of any circumstances—

(a) the reasonableness or otherwise of that belief is relevant to the question whether D genuinely held it; but

(b) if it is determined that D did genuinely hold it, D is entitled to rely on it for the purposes of subsection (3), whether or not—

(i) it was mistaken, or

(ii) (if it was mistaken) the mistake was a reasonable one to have made.

It is worth remembering that this arose out of a couple of cases where householders were convicted of murder and manslaughter for killing burglars; but the point is that it allows the use of force to prevent crime.

First there was a discussion on the difference between clarification and codification (clarification changes things and makes them clear, while codification just brings order to what is).  If the act is codification, then it doesn’t affect previous case law; if it is clarification then it can.  The judge pointed out that the court of appeal describes it as clarification; therefore, Hoffman in Jones is out of date.

They then moved on to a discussion of sections 3 and 4, and whether the test required is “objective” (which I presume means what a reasonable person would think) or “subjective” (what the defendant thinks). The prosecutor was trying to argue that 4b still requires objective view and despite her three or four attempts to state it the judge would have none of it.  Several times he asked her for her authority for her opinion, and she could give none.

She then suggested that Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967[1] does not apply as we did not use sufficient force!  Wonderful I thought.  Those who chained themselves to lorries or gates might get off as they used force; whereas Isa and I who “merely” lay down in front of the tank could be convicted.  Would that not be truly ironic, and suggest that next time I will need to use greater force not to be convicted!

As the prosecutor said “The use of force may require chaining yourself to something; just lying in the road may not allow a section 3 defence” As the appeal says “if we allow for the sake of argument that chaining yourself to railings or putting sugar in a petrol tank is violence”.

She then argued that we cannot take action against as there is a presumption that the state is functioning effectively “a tight control over the use is force is necessary to prevent a slide into anarchy”.  The right to the use of force is even more prescribed where it is not ourself or our personal property (or close family). If we cannot get courts to intervene then we need to use democratic methods to effect change, not take the law into our own hands.

Judge asked is it illegitimate to look at what has actually happened? (ie that the laws are in place but the state has not enforced them). And he said that collateral effects (ie on bystanders) doesn’t of itself make action illegitimate eg searches at airports.

At that point the prosecutor rather lost it and suggested that if the defence of prevention of crime were allowed then we would be entitled to blow up a plane with arms destined for Saudi Arabia, or be entitled to arrest anyone with a DSEI badge in case they sell arms illegally.

She then argued that the crime is too remote from the action for the action to be allowed; and allowing this would result in anarchy.  “Where can one draw the line if the defence is allowed”

The defence then presented a more coherent case something like:

It would be absurd if it required the use force to be allowed the defence of preventing crime, and a lesser action did not allow such a defence.  And in any case force is minimal eg pushing a door that is already ajar requires force.  (I hope any physicists amongst you approve).

When considering the case, it must be assumed that the actions that the defendants were trying to stop would happen, and then

  1. a) Did the defendant honestly belief
  2. b) Was the force used reasonable –

Inconveniencing bystanders, even committing a lesser crime is allowed in the prevention of crime eg shoving someone out of the way (assault) to stop a killer is permitted.

Crime enforcement is duty of all not just the police.  The police are in fact just citizens in uniform.

There was then a discussion of two cases brought by Blackburn (a Labour MP and supporter of Lord Longford).  The Metropolitan police had an explicit policy to not enforce the gambling laws, and he took them to court over it.  I am not quite sure what the relevance of that was. In the other case (Blackburn 2) Blackburn went around Soho collecting porn, gave it to the police to prosecute; but they took no action.  Lord Denning said there was a gap that needed to be filled and it was reasonable for Blackburn to intervene.  The law recognises that in some cases self-help can be justified.  Only when there is no reasonable alternative.

My lawyer, Adeela Khan, suggested that I was applying force to road (which I guess while true would make the law of gravity a defence in the prevention of crime) or failing that I have a common law defence of preventing crime that predates the Criminal Law Act 1967.

I had achieved no action as a result of my political activity and therefore I had no other possibility than of taking action myself as non-direct action had made no difference, as stated by Olly Sprague.

We had clearly shown the nexus between that tank and Saudi Arabia, the largest buyer of UK arms and Bahrain also a large buyer.

Collateral damage very slight because cars and buses could move around the vehicle.

We were also reminded that it is for the prosecution to show that the weapons would not be used illegally, not for the defence to prove it.

At that the judge adjourned the case to tomorrow for his decision on the defence of prevention of crime.

If we are acquitted, it will end there.  If not, then we will present arguments on reasonableness and in the cases of Susannah and Lisa on whether it was a public highway.

Good article in the Guardian
And great Article in the Ham and High

[1] 3 Use of force in making arrest, etc.

(1) A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.

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Day 3 of DSEI trial

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I need to start with an apology to Angela Ditchfield for saying that she would be standing for Labour.  She has stood for the Greens and will be standing for the Greens again.

I’m afraid that today is longer and heavier than previous reports because of the subject matter.

The day started with the cross examination of Lisa Butler which added little to what had been covered yesterday.  She arrived with around 40-50 cyclists from Critical Mass, bringing her banner of solidarity with the Kurdish people to the East Gate (I’m actually sitting just metres from the site right now).  Lisa made it clear that the police prevented her from closing the gate across the carriageway she was at by driving a van into the gap, and that she had not arrived with the intention of locking herself to the gate.  She only did so because one of the security guards was assaulting the first woman who was going to lock herself on, and wanted to prevent her getting hurt.  It was not premeditated.  Her action did not increase the blockage of the road.  Indeed, the police were not competently carrying out their duty, but making the assault on the other woman worse. The police were really intimidating, so that she looked down, but overheard them making disgusting sexist comments about a naked woman “with her tits hanging out” and really wanted to get away from them.

Locking herself to the gates did much more to raise awareness of the plight of the Kurds and got more publicity than all the banner waving had ever done.  Her intention in locking herself to the gates had been to stop illegal sales of arms to Turkey, though with hindsight she could not prevent the crimes. Lisa stated that companies that supply countries carrying out war crimes are guilty of complicity in those war crimes under the International War Crimes Act.

Lisa also agreed that it happened on a private road; not a public highway (I still can’t work out why the prosecution raised that as I would have thought it would mean that she couldn’t be obstructing a public highway, and the prosecution had seemed to object to the point being raised yesterday).  She also pointed out that other than the two police vans; no other vehicles were present to be obstructed.

Next we were privileged to have Olly Sprague, programme director arms control at Amnesty, as an expert witness.

His role includes representing views to parliament and ministers, speaking to media etc about arms and arms control.

He is aware that there have been breaches of law at every DSEI since 2005 (2005-13).  The law relating to arms control is fully extraterritorial in scope, something that applies only for the most serious forms of crime such as terrorism.

The ban includes the promotion, marketing and sale of instruments of torture such as electric batons and leg irons as well as illegal weapons such as cluster bombs and land mines.  At least from 2008 it has been illegal to advertise or market cluster bombs.

We then looked at who attends the arms fair.  The British Government invites some, and attendees are government delegations, people from the arms industry, journalists in defence publications and some academics.  A freedom of information application (FOIA) of which countries were invited by the government included Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  People attend the fairs as an important part in subsequent deals, and the legislation shows that the government thinks that fairs are key in making sales.

This year Ollie was prevented from attending.  Having registered in advance he was told that there was a problem and that he should turn up on day, when he was the only person in a queue of about 100 people who taken to a side room and prevented from entering the exhibition

However, this is some of the illegal activity that Ollie reported on:

  • 2005 DSEI:   Tar Ideal (Israel) was advertising sale stun guns, stun batons and leg-irons on its stand. All these items specifically prohibited under 2004 legislation changes. Another company, Imperial Armour (South Africa) offered to discuss at this show to an undercover journalist, their product range of electro shock weapons. Such a discussion is also in my view, would also constitute a breach of UK legislation.
  • 2007 DSEI:  BCB International Ltd (Wales) advertising a Taser electric dart device. Chinese firm Famous Glory Holdings were advertising leg-cuffs and a range of electroshock stun guns and stun batons. Indian company DRDO was advertising an artillery rocket system that fired a variety of munitions including anti-personnel landmines.
  • 2009 DSEI: Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) in its product catalogue was displaying a 155 mm cluster bomb artillery shell. The specific munitions were called the 155mm Base Bleed DP-ICM (Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions) which was made illegal under 2008 revisions to UK export control law, and were present despite the organisers have been specifically warned about them in advance.
  • 2011 DSEi:   Beechwood Equipment (UK) was advertising illegal restraint devices including leg irons, belly, body and gang chains made by US company CTS. It was a full colour brochure available to pick up on the counter and was extremely prominent on the display. Pakistan Ordnance Factory: – The same 155mm cluster bomb artillery shell was even more prominently on display in an actual product line brochure rather than a product catalogue. Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) of Pakistan was also displaying the Pakistan Ordnance Factory 155 mm cluster munitions. Nammo Talley, a fully owned subsidiary of the Nammo Group, whose promotional material was on the Nammo Stand, also included references to cluster munitions in their literature.
  • DSEi 2013: A further two companies were identified by civil society researchers. MyWay International Trading company was promoting the sale of leg irons and electric stun batons and MagForce International were promoting the sale of electric stun guns and leg Irons. I am in no doubt that these are prohibited items of torture and to display them at DSEI 2013 was a clear breach of the Export Control Order 2008 as they relate to the promotion of banned goods

None of these breaches were discovered by the organisers, the police, HMRC or government weapons inspectors, but by members of civil society. Indeed, officials on public record as saying they have not done their job properly in stopping illegal activity. None of them have ever been prosecuted; Vince Cable basically said that it would not be in the public interest.

Ollie also discussed the Saudi Arabia / Yemen conflict, where numerous extremely credible sources, including UN monitors, Red Cross, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch found grave breaches of international Human Rights Law, and Law of War.  Over 3000 people have been killed and over 2 million people displaced. It is probably one of the worst conflicts of its kind.  This was ongoing at time of DSEI and was using the type of equipment on sale at DSEI.  This afternoon Mr Sands QC will be presenting to Parliament his legal opinion that the breaches are so grave that arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be stopped.

Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of UK arms by value. Indeed, in the quarter with DSEI in (July to September 2015) the government licensed £1.2 billion of bombs of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia.  This is more than all exports of bombs to all countries over previous 4 years.  There is clear evidence of the use of British made bombs.  After one air raid carried out by the UAE on a ceramics factory a bomb fragment was found saying “made in the UK”.

Ollie state that he had never seen anyone from National Crime Agency, HMRC etc at DSEI.  Even the arms dealers’ compliance people are concerned that things like torture equipment are being sold, and are concerned that government is not doing its job.

On paper we have some of the best laws to prevent war crimes and illegal weapons being sold, but there is a huge gap between law and what happened.  The government has shown that is not capable of enforcing their own law.  Year on year they have said they want to improve, but they never have.

We then returned to the defendants on the witness stand, and Mr Isa al-Aali who was arrested at the same time as me. Asi was born and grew up in Bahrain before 2011 he was not fully politically engaged.  From 2011 he took part in demos asking for equality and democracy.  The police were heavy handed and

attacked demonstrators very violently using arms with live ammunition and tear gas, and explosives normally used against animals.  Isa personally saw people killed and injured and hundreds arrested.  The first time the forces were just Bahrainis but the second time included Saudi Arabian forces in the crushing of the uprising.

Isa was arrested three times in 2013. The first time he was stopped by 12 police cars late at night when he was by himself.  He tried to run away or he would have been run over. One officer jumped on his back causing him to fall and the police then wanted to take him to a police station. He refused to go as he had not committed a crime, and feared being tortured or killed.  He had a gun put against head, and was told that if he didn’t do what they wanted then they would kill him.  He is convinced that the gun came from UK.  He was taken to the police station, arrested and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious.  They tied his hands behind his back with plastic ties and beat him up to admit things he didn’t know about, and beat him until he couldn’t stand up or even move so that they had to pick him up and put him in the car.  They also threatened to cut off his penis.  He was arrested on two other occasions in 2013.

He was granted asylum in the UK in 2015; based on experiences that he has told today and shown in court.

He is particularly opposed to the sale of arms at the fair because Bahrain is one of the major customers and gets arms through the fair of the type used against him.

He went planning to demonstrate, and if believed that if he managed to stop anything carrying arms that would be something.  “It is a duty to stop arms from getting to the fair, it is a moral duty and responsibility.”  He saw the tank and ran towards it.  The lorry carrying the tank was forced to slow when a car went by.  The lorry still moving when sat down in front it, but moving slowly.  He stopped as it was most likely the tank would be sold from the fair and used to kill innocent people.

the Guardian has a report focusing on Isa .

Susannah Mengesha is representing herself, and therefore effectively made a statement from the dock.  She stated that she has no criminal convictions and her work involves supporting vulnerable adults especially isolated elderly people.  She has also supported long-term homeless people, women escaping violence and victims of war.  She is also the mother of a 9 year-old girl.  Her husband is a conscientious objector from Eritrea who was tortured for his conscientious objection.  She therefore felt compelled to act against torture; that weapons would be sold at DSEI for torture which is illegal and that weapons would be sold that would be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.  Nearly all the coalition partners in Yemen would be shopping in DSEI.  UAE have been doing air strikes and sent in ground troops.  The attacks were particularly bad in the week of protest.

The day before her action Oxfam issued a press release saying we need to urgently stop selling arms to Saudi because of their use in Yemen.

Prior to her action at the arms fair she had taken other action including signing petitions; contacted Caroline Lucas to raise questions about DSEI in parliament; going on a speaking tour with CAAT to Norwich and London.  She even launched a private prosecution against legal sellers from 2013 but this was blocked by the Crown Prosecution Service who would not respond to letters until the deadline for prosecuting had passed.  She tried to have a judicial review but was told that she did not have standing.

She then went on to say that she didn’t know until the morning of the protest what she was going to do, but met some friends and obtained some bicycle D-locks and in the absence of any other way to prevent illegal sales agreed to be locked to the gate.  When she arrived the further gate was already closed and locked down by G4S.  She was locked onto the gate heard a lot of shouting and heard someone shouting you are strangling me and there seemed to be a fight.  She saw two security personnel and others all shouting so retreated into self and stayed quiet.  Concentrating on survival; worried about security knocking over the fence and effectively strangling her.

She stated that unfortunately her actions were not effective; because there was nothing to stop. She had hoped the protest would succeed, being aware of other places where arms fairs have been shut down by mass protests, including in Australia.  She said “I wish I had been effective and that we had shut down the arms fair; I stand by my action”

Next up was Mr Rankin who works for a peace organisation, Vredesactie, in Belgium. It has a major campaign against nuclear weapons, jets and is working against the arms trade.  He has also worked for UN in Malawi, assisting refugees from war in Burundi and Congo.

The protest was a way of expressing my discontent against the arms trade and the fair, where many of the arms being sold are in breach of existing law.  Weapons cannot be sold for violation of humanitarian law.  He arrived at about 10:00. At the dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction).  There was already a Crowd of 200 people who were blocking the road, as were the police who had surrounded the crowd and lorry.

With two friends they lay down and locked themselves together; occupying a small space so that if someone wanted to they could get round their blockage, but then they would have run into the police. After several hours the police moved most of the crowd and then there were four left – those locked on and one other.

He said “If I am able to stop war crimes by lying in the middle of the road that is important.” And “Protest and direct action is part of a vibrant democracy”.

Javier Garate was born in the US while his father was in exile from Pinochet’s Chile.  They moved back to Chile in 1981, so that he lived under dictatorship for ten years, and so remembers curfews, soldiers in the street, and in school the father of classmate killed when he was six.  At 25 he moved to UK working to promote non-violent direct action.  He lived in London 2005-15 attended first arms fair as part of critical mass. See the same things every year; but it was not working so he decided to use body to prevent fair from happening.  Until this year, never doing civil disobedience; just protesting. Because cannot count on the police and authorities stopping the illegal activity had to stop the whole arms fair,

People everywhere; on the road, on the surrounding green space.  People on the road blocking at least two lanes; as were police.  Javier blocked less than one lane, trying to stop any lorry from entering the arms fair.  All the lorries before he lay in the road had gone into the Excel Centre, so he could assume the one he stopped would go there too.

He said “My action was justified and reasonable in stopping a greater crime.”

Luis Javier Tinoco Torrejon is Peruvian and Belgian working in development education and for five years in peace movements Agite pour la Paix an anti-militaristic organisation.  He has volunteered for year and now trains people in non-violent-direct-action and civil disobedience.

He was invited over to the UK by CAAT to share experiences, and the meeting was during the DSEI campaign so went to see what was happening.  It was his first time going to an arms fair.  He has been doing non-violent-direct-action for some years as well as contacting politicians; but there hasn’t been any change.  Civil disobedience is the only way of putting justice back where it needs to be.

He also stated that none of the other protestors who were removed from the road were arrested.

The day ended with some legal arguments.  The judge asked that after the final two expert witnesses in the morning speeches focus on the defence of preventing crime as if he acquits us on that basis there is no need to look at the other defences.

He also said that a lot of what Hoffman says in Jones is before current law, so is now redundant.  He also asked what is the implication of the state not enforcing the law but treating it is a joke. And he commented that innocent people inconvenienced by crime prevention is not itself enough to remove defence.

Finally, CAAT have a good report

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Second Day of the Trial

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
A big day today. We got some trial done, some judgements and I appeared on the stand. But you will have to skip towards the bottom if you want to read that first.

We started the day with some more rulings on proceedings. The prosecution had failed to provide the defence with copies of some of the evidence that they had requested, despite repeated requests. However, because they had not been back to court to demand it from the prosecution the judge ruled that the prosecution do not have to provide it unless they wish to. One to the prosecution then.

We then had the first witness of the day; really the first witness as yesterday they had only answered a couple of questions about the videos we were being shown. First up was Mr Salman a security guard / traffic manager working for the Excel Centre who had been on duty on the day that Lisa Butler and Susannah Mengesha were arrested. I am not quite sure why he had been selected as he added little light to the subject. His job was to direct traffic at the first of two gates at the Excel Centre and ensure that only traffic for the Excel Centre (identified by Excel or DSEI / G4S passes), a block of flats and a restaurant went down the road. He said that G4S had already closed and blocked the inner gates before Angela and Susannah fixed themselves to the fence with D-locks (so presumably the traffic was already blocked?).

At one point the judge got a bit snappy with both prosecution and defence lawyers and said to Mr Salman “Any irritation is purely with lawyers”, and told the prosecution that they had spent far more time than they had allocated for herself in the timetable. Still she went on for another five minutes to little effect.

Next up was PC Salem who believes in magic as he said, and I quote “after release from custody the key magically appeared and she released herself”. Digging a little deeper the police were unable to remove the D-lock from Susannah’s neck, and had strip-searched her at the police station hoping to find a key which she had already told them that she didn’t have. It also became clear that he had not seen her without the D-lock, so it would seem the magic was a surmise.

Next up was PC Bo or Beau I couldn’t read the name badge, but it was pronounced like them. He stated that Angela was attached to the fence with a D-lock around the fence and they had to get the MoD police to release her. He also stated that no vehicles could pass her on the road, but had to agree that photographs of the scene showed two large police vans going through the gate whilst Angela was locked to it.

After that we had a preliminary ruling from the judge that he was minded to allow us to present the defence we wish to. He said that having read the prosecution’s skeleton argument he could see nothing that clearly ruled out the defence, and as there was ambiguity he would have to come down on the side of the defence, and, to quote “unless she could pull a rabbit from a hat he would allow the defence to be presented”. The rulings themselves were quite entertaining as we had a high court judge saying that a law lord was wrong. Hoffman had said the defence could rarely be presented, but that was before the Human Rights Act, and the later case said he was wrong. The appeal court said it had reservations and would have to visit the issue later. The judge also said that the level of criminality in this case was less than in the Hoffman case so the defence was more likely to be allowed.
So, in the ambiguity he would rule for the defence. The prosecution then tried to use a case where the judge had said nothing on the topic, and was slapped down by the judge who ruled that we could give our defences. A big one for the defence.

The afternoon was taken with the examination of the first defendants.

First up was Angela Ditchfield, who has an interesting past working in mission hospitals, standing as a Green Party Party councillor. She is particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries with bad human rights records that use them against civilians including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan and Israel.

The vehicle that she stopped, and chained herself too whilst not a tank is used to make killing more efficient. She stated that she is opposed to all arms sales, but was specifically trying to prevent illegal sales of arms.

She had tried all the usual channels of protest and writing letters etc and was particularly concerned that the government would do nothing as they had even voted for a Saudi Arabian to be chair of a panel of the Human Rights Council, despite their record.

The prosecutor was exercised with the imminence of any crime and kept pushing her about whether that particular vehicle at that particular moment seemed to be about to commit a crime. Which it may have been as it seemed to be about to run over one of the protestors.

I was next up. So I can tell you that it was a bit nerve racking at first, as I wanted to be clear and make sure I got my key arguments across. The others tell me I did. There is a good summary in the Guardian article but here is my take from what I can remember – which because of the levels of adrenalin is not as much as I might have expected.

First I explained my long commitment to human rights and arms control, having been active in Amnesty International since I was 14 and a member of CAAT on and off since my twenties; that I left the Labour Party in part because of its war mongering and have been active in the Green Party for three years including standing for Council.

I then talked about going to the protest on the Thursday, organised by Academics Against Arms and hearing one seminar before rushing off to lie in front of the tank. The seminar then moved next to us (but that was mentioned in court).

I pointed out that I was only trying to intervene because the police, government and arms control agencies had done nothing to uphold the law preventing the sale of amongst other things cluster bombs, land mines and torture equipment, despite the illegal activity at each previous DSEI. “In every single previous arms fair, that had been found to be happening. We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports, we have reports from Amnesty International, we have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold.”

Cross examination focused on what other activity I had taken (such as letter writing and demonstrating) that I felt I had a right to take action, and the immediacy of any crime that the tank might be involved in. I kept re-stating the point that if the government would only enforce the law then I would not have to intervene.

Last up for the day was Lisa Butler who writes about Kurdistan including for Corporate Watch and Turkish attacks on Kurds were her main focus. She had been in Kurdistan just a month before DSEI visiting Cizre, and where Kurds were being killed by Turkish forces even whilst DSEI was going on. There had also been a recent declaration that Turkey was in breach of human rights law, but despite this they had been invited to DSEI.

She had been going to the arms fair to protest and meet a Kurdish speaker, but saw a woman who was trying to lock herself to the gate being harassed and threatened by security guards, so she decided to lock herself to the gate in her place. Once she had locked herself to the gate a cyclist, who she did not know, took the key and headed off so that she could not unlock herself.

Since DSEI Cizre has been largely destroyed by Turkish shelling, killing hundreds and displacing thousands and thousands.

Tomorrow we start with the cross examination of Lisa.

Sorry, no pictures today.

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First Day of the Arms Protest Trial

Monday, April 11, 2016
A very pleasant cycle ride of 9 miles along the Regent’s Canal and Greenway to Stratford Court, where protesters were beginning to assemble. Around 40 people came to the protest, including London’s Green Mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, several members of veterans for peace and members of the Green Party from as far afield as Cambridge and Dorset.


Much of the trial today is best described as a shambles. It started off with an argument over whether we should have a legal argument, and if so when. We, the defence, want to present a defence that we were trying to prevent a crime. The prosecution argued that we should not be allowed to prevent a defence of necessity (which is related, but not the same and different precedents apply). As you can imagine the judge was not impressed by this. The judge then asked the prosecutor to try to agree with the defence when the arguments about whether we could present either of our defences (prevention of crime and reasonable behaviour) as protected by articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights [1]. He also asked for a proper timetable for the trial, which he had expected to see in advance showing how long each witness etc would take.

It then became clear that the prosecution had not properly served the video on the defence, by which I mean they had sent us DVDs, but they were either blank or unreadable, and had not sent copies when so requested. They had also not served anything on Susannah Mengesha, who is defending herself. This meant that during the first recess the prosecution had to copy all their papers and give them to her with the result that the prosecutor failed to do the other tasks that the judge had asked her to.

After another recess the trail proper got started at 12:30 when the prosecution read the cases against Angela Ditchfield and then Abdul Aali and myself. The statement was fairly short, and mostly (but not entirely accurate). Noting that we lay down in front of the low loader, that they asked us to move, we didn’t respond and that they arrested us and carried us to the pavement. The prosecution then wanted to play video, but there was no facility to do so in the court we were in, so we adjourned for lunch whilst officials found us another courtroom. The judge also warned the prosecutor that if she was using a mac she needed to make sure that she could play the video as Macs do not work very well with the court system.

After lunch the judge was still not happy with the timetable and the prosecutor had not sorted out her equipment, and the judge was loath to use his computer as he put “It is not my job to deliver evidence for the prosecution”. In the end one of the defence lawyers used their computer to show the video. Which were really far too long and repetitive and would certainly never win any prizes for anything really. Perhaps the most entertaining bit was seeing the police failing to cut a chain with their own bolt cutters, and they had to borrow a pair of the military (apparently) to cut the chain tying people to a military vehicle (from the day before my protest).

The prosecutor then admitted they had lost the next video they wanted! So the judge pissed off again asked her very pointedly whether the video was even necessary. She said that it added colour to the black and white statements. The judge asked if it was really necessary and whether a whole hour was needed (1 of the videos scheduled for tomorrow lasts over an hour!)

He then spent 15 minutes telling the defence lawyers that he didn’t want them repeating questions previous ones had asked (they said they were cooperating and that wouldn’t happen) and asked again if the video was necessary as court time needs to be used well.

And that is as far as we got in one day. Tomorrow the prosecution should finish and either we will have legal arguments about whether we can present a defence of reasonableness and prevention of crime or we will have the start of the defence itself.

Also there is a nice report in the Guardian on Monday 11th April 2016

[1] Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights
Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Freedom of assembly and association
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

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Trial Starts This Week For Activists Accused Of Disrupting World’s Largest Arms Fair

6 April 2016 – For immediate release.

In a trial due to start today, 11th April, high profile expert witnesses, Andrew Feinstein, Sayed Ahmed and Oliver Sprague will give evidence in defence of eight anti-militarists who are accused of disrupting one of the world’s largest arms fairs. The defendants are accused of having disrupted the setup of the arms fair by blocking the access roads to the site with their bodies, and by locking themselves to the gates.

The defendants including: Angela Ditchfield, Tom Franklin and Isa Al-Aali were arrested on 9 and 10 September 2015, accused of obstructing the entry of tanks and heavy goods vehicles by blocking the roads with their bodies. Multiple defendants are accused of having blockaded the road during the Stop The Arms Fair main day action on 12 September 2015; of which three are accused of blocking the East gate of the ExCel centre (where DSEI is held) by locking themselves to the gate with arm tubes and two are accused of obstructing the West gate by D-locking their necks to the gate.

The DSEI (Defense & Security Equipment International) arms fair exists so that arms buyers and sellers can come together, network and make deals, and it takes place every two years in London’s Docklands. DSEI is jointly organised by Clarion Events and the UK Governments. Buyers include countries involved in conflict and from human rights abusing regimes [1]. In September 2015 over 1500 exhibitors attended from around the world, including most of the world’s largest arms companies, displaying arms ranging from rifles to tanks, fighter jets, battleships, missiles, military electronics, surveillance and riot control equipment [2].

The expert witnesses have supplied written reports and will attend in person give oral evidence for the defence concerning the nature of the DSEI arms fair:
Andrew Feinstein is the former ANC Member of Parliament who resigned in 2001 in protest at the government’s refusal to allow an unfettered investigation into a £5bn arms deal that has been identified as the biggest corruption scandal in South Africa’s history. He went on to author The Shadow World, a book described by the Washington Post as “possibly the most complete account [of the global arms trade] ever written. He is currently Executive Director of Corruption Watch UK, an NGO which researches the global arms trade and details and exposes weapons violations, bribery, corruption and other malfeasance.
Oliver Sprague is Program Director of Arms Control and policing at Amnesty International UK. He has worked on technical aspects of UK arms export controls for over 20 years. Sprague gives regular oral and written evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee working on arms export controls. He has given expert evidence on breaches of export control legalisation at the DSEI (and other defence exhibitions) on numerous occasions.
Sayed Ahmed is director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), a London based NGO which seeks to improve human rights and accountability in Bahrain.

The defendants themselves will also seek to give personal testisny of their reasons for opposing the arms fair and the catalogue of oppressive regimes that shop there. This will include a first hand account from a Bahraini activist who was tortured during the Bahraini uprising [3]; an account from a Kurdish Solidarity activist with experience of Turkeys brutal repression and attacks on Kurdistan [4]; and an anti-militarist activist that has previously sought to privately prosecute two arms companies for the promotion of illegal torture weapons at DSEI 2013 [5].

The defendents will be using the defence of necessity, arguing that their actions were justified since they were intended to prevent greater crimes including:

    • The sale of weapons to internally repressive regimes including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
    • The sale of weapons to countries imminently at war and overtly complicit in ongoing war crimes in Yemen, Kurdistan and Palestine
    • The sale of weapons to regimes that have been widely accused of arming ISIS
    • The promotion for sale of weapons that are designed specifically for torture or banned under international law for their capabilities concerning the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians

Defendant Tom Franklin, 57, of Clifton Without, York said. “It is intolerable that the government is supporting the sale of illegal weapons and weapons  being used to kill ordinary people from the West Bank to Yemen and Sudan. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So I had to try to prevent evil”.

In a joint public statement [6] the Defendants Campaign said:
“We know that the tools of the type promoted for sale at DSEI will be used to reinforce apartheid, to surveil and brutalise communities from Brixton to Bahrain, and to perpetuate the border regime that kills thousands every year – as European states wage a war against the refugees they helped to create.
“We know that weapons promoted at DSEI are used to incinerate whole families at the touch of a button in places from Palestine to Pakistan. We know that such weapons will continue to devastate landscapes and do permanent environmental damage across the globe. And that these weapons have been used in systematic forced evictions and ethnic cleansing; such as against the people of Kurdistan. And we know that weapons of the type promoted at DSEI will be used to torture and repress people based on their political views, faith, gender, or sexuality in places like Saudia Arabia. Sometimes the tools of oppression are literal – and they are for sale at DSEI arms fair.”

The week long trial is listed to commence on Monday 11th April 2016 at Stratford Magistrates Court in London. The defendants will be represented in court by Kellys Solicitors of Brighton, Hodge Jones & Allen of London and Bindmans Solicitors of London.

The defendants’ campaign can be reached for comments at:

A roundup of the week of direct action against DSEI:
More information about the DSEI arms fair can be found on the fooling websites:
Stop the Arms Fair:
Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT):

Photos of the protest are available

[1] Buyers at DSEI arms fair
[2] Sellers at DSEI arms fair
[3] A personal account of the Bahraini defendant can be read
here: told-me-they were-going-to cut-my-penis-if-i- didn-t-give-them-information
[4] As Turkey massacres Kurds, UK arms fair welcomes Turkish officials and military companies officials-and-military
[5] A film about the private prosecution of DSEI arms dealers was released in March 2015 and can be viewed here:
[6] DSEI 2015 Defendants Campaign joint public statements in full:


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UK Special Forces: Accountability in Shadow War

Paul Rogers
30 March 2016


British SAS Armed Forces











British Special Forces have witnessed a major expansion in their size and activity in the last decade and are a priority for investment over the next few years. With reports of their growing activity in Iraq, Syria and Libya, this briefing looks at the current size and role of the various units of United Kingdom Special Forces. It asks crucial questions of their deployment, accountability and effectiveness as the most important component of a growing trend towards covert or ‘shadow’ warfare.

Last November the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced plans to spend an additional £2 billion over the next five years on new weapons, vehicles and other equipment for the UK’s Special Forces. While it was reported that this would not result in an increase in personnel numbers for the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS), it is probable that there will be increases in the numbers in various support groups. The announcement came at a time of substantially increased activity for UK Special Forces, including reports of operations in Iraq, Syria and Libya, with these seen as important elements in the UK’s contribution to the coalition against the so-called Islamic State (IS).

This does, though, raise the issue of the accountability of an increasingly significant element of the UK’s defence posture given the policy of successive governments to minimise public debate. This policy even extends to a lack of parliamentary accountability in most circumstances. In this context, the briefing provides a short introduction to the UK Special Forces and raises issues that stem from the secrecy which surrounds their use.

Current Context
In the past fifteen years there has been a substantial increase in the size of Special Forces across western countries. This is especially the case in the United States where US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) now has around 70,000 personnel, not far short of the entire British Army after the current cutbacks have been completed. Part of the reason for the expansion has been the rise in “irregular war” stemming from the evolution of al-Qaida and IS and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, but a significant factor has been the failure of large-scale overseas deployments of western troops since 9/11. Special Forces along with armed drones, private military companies, and other forms of remote warfare are therefore seen as necessary responses to evolving security threats, with Britain heavily involved in this process.

UK Special Forces
At the core of Britain’s Special Forces is the Special Air Service Regiment, 22 SAS, which developed slowly and variably from its World War II origins until 1980 and then expanded and consolidated. It has long been regarded as one of the most effective of the world’s Special Forces; the US Delta Force was partly modelled on the SAS, as were the Australian, New Zealand and Zimbabwean SAS regiments. Now, though, US elements such as Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL teams are seen as much better equipped than the SAS, although the UK Ministry of Defence is currently investing heavily in that area.

22 SAS normally has a strength of 400 to 600 and is based at Credenhill near Hereford at what was originally RAF Hereford. Troopers may spend much of their army careers with 22 SAS although officers will tend to rotate from other regiments, especially the Paras and the Guards. Officers are typically public school educated and have long been known as “Ruperts” by the troopers. The troopers and especially the senior NCOs are regarded as the core of the SAS accruing diverse experience during their careers and making them eminently employable by private military companies, several of which are based around Hereford. Meanwhile, many SAS officers go on to occupy high positions in the  armed forces, including one recent Chief of Defence Staff who, when serving in the SAS, ran the body guard for Kenya’s President Jomo Kenyatta.

The Special Boat Service is a smaller Royal Marines unit. While it may specialise in amphibious operations its activities are much wider than this and it performs many roles similar to the SAS. The SBS has recently seen long periods of deployment in Afghanistan. It is based at Hamworthy Barracks, RN Poole in Dorset, is organised in four squadrons. Its numbers are in the low hundreds and there is a reserve element.

The Special Forces Support Group is based on the 1st battalion of the Parachute Regiment together with a substantial Royal Marines element and a smaller RAF Regiment contingent, in all probably numbering around 800 but subject to change. It is based at the large RAF St Athan centre in South Wales which is now a substantial tri-service facility. The SFSG backs up many SAS and SBS activities, was established in 2006 and represents the largest of the UK Special Force expansions over the past decade. “Back up” may include logistic support in conflict zones, direct support for offensive operations and training of local forces. The SFSG has operated across the Middle East and also in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Special Reconnaissance Regiment was developed from 14 Intelligence Company, established in 2005, draws on volunteers from across the armed forces, is reported to be based at Hereford along with 22 SAS, and has several hundred personnel.

The Special Signals Regiment (18 Signal Regiment), also established in 2005, is reported to be of a similar size and has units attached to SAS and SBS squadrons.

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing drawn from the RAF and the Army Air Corps is based primarily at RAF Odiham, near Hook in Hampshire. It utilises a range of helicopter types including Chinook and Gazelle, and the main fixed-wing type is the C-130J Hercules.

The overall strength of all the UK Special Forces is likely to be close to 3,000 at any one time, with quite substantial reserves, especially SAS (21 and 23 regiments) and SBS, but personnel numbers do vary with demands. The central organisation is the UK Special Forces Directorate which was formed in 1987.

UK Special Forces have been much-hyped in populist “non-fiction”, often involving gross exaggerations of actual achievements and little coverage of failed operations. At the official level, government rarely reveals any details of Special Force operations and it is clear that they function even in countries where HMG denies there are boots “on the ground”. Because of this, opacity of Information is resolutely maintained. Members of parliament seeking comments on Special Force operations are routinely told that “it is not government practice…” etc., but selected journalists are from time to time fed accounts of particular operations that can be used to publish positive stories. Details of such successes are therefore useful in promoting the Special Force idea, although this is not infrequently resented elsewhere in the armed forces.

The sustained secrecy, selective control of information and persistent lack of transparency militates against proper parliamentary accountability and also a wider public debate about Special Forces roles. This is a situation that has been maintained by successive governments, though it is particularly intensive at present. There is a strong argument that in an era of irregular war it would be healthy for a democracy to be able to engage in open debate, and not just in parliament.

Effectiveness of Special Force Operations
One of the reasons for the likely increased use of Special Forces in the coming years is the belief that they have proved effective in the past. They are seen, in particular, as having been the key to the decline in the severity of the insurgency in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, one consequence being that Senator Barack Obama could fight the 2008 presidential election campaign on a policy of the US withdrawing from Iraq. In reality, though, that initial success laid the basis for the evolution of IS, a process analysed in my October 2014 briefing:

Under General Stanley McChrystal, the US Joint Special Operations Command            (JSOC) developed a network-centric model which used four highly trained and well-armed Special Forces groups to seek out and destroy elements of AQI [al-Qaida in Iraq, the precursor to IS] and related groups across central and north-western Iraq. Commonly known as Task Force 145, the four Task Force groups each had a regional focus, with the personnel drawn from three US formations – SEAL Team 6, a Delta Squadron and a Ranger battalion – and an SAS squadron from the UK. These Task Forces had access to a wide range of intelligence but operated with considerable independence, undertaking up to 300 raids a month to kill or capture suspected insurgents, the latter frequently subject to intense physical interrogation in order to gain information leading to further raids. [AQI leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi himself was killed in October 2006 and over a three-year period to late 2007 some thousands of suspected insurgents were killed and tens of thousands detained, 20,000 of them in Camp Bucca near Basra. Detainees were mostly held without trial, some for several years, but most were ultimately released by the time the US withdrew its combat forces in 2011. Hundreds more were freed in a concentrated campaign of attacks on Iraqi prisons in 2012-13.

The view from the Pentagon was that JSOC operations and the establishment of Sunni militias opposed to Zarqawi’s brutal activities, coupled with a surge of US forces in 2007, were the core factors that led to an easing of the war by 2008. That may have been the case, but what is now clear is that the core military leadership of IS is heavily dependent on Iraqi paramilitary survivors from that period.

At the time of the JSOC operations, what is now being called the “shadow war” in Iraq was conducted with an absolute minimum of publicity, one result being virtually no public debate, let alone parliamentary accountability. In the event, this shadow war may initially have been seen as a success, but one of the long term effects was to help ensure the evolution and resilience of IS.

There is now mounting evidence that western Special Forces are conducting similar kinds of operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya, again with virtually no public awareness. The assumption of western governments may be that this is the main way to fight a very difficult and dangerous enemy but unless the experience of the war in Iraq is taken into account the same mistakes may well be made.

The expanded use of Special Forces in the wars against extreme movements raises major issues of transparency and accountability, both of which are currently lacking. This, in turn, is part of a wider move towards remote warfare, which is also evolving with a similar lack of openness. Given the many problems that have arisen in the conduct of the “war on terror” over nearly fifteen years, there is a strong argument that there should be far more open debate on the conduct of remote warfare, not least the evolving use of Special Forces.

Image via Wikimedia

About the Author
Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His ‘Monthly Global Security Briefings’ are available from our website. His new book Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threats from the Margins will be published by I B Tauris in June 2016. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.

Copyright Oxford Research Group 2016.

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Jeremy Corbyn Speech at Stop Trident Demo London


Published on 29 Feb 2016
UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a long term member of CND. Here he condemns replacement of Trident Missile system in UK. Trident and security – Not only are these weapons immoral, potentially genocidal and strategically irrelevant in the face of the realistic threats we face today, they are also hugely expensive. The Government’s National Security Strategy identifies international terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural hazards as greater threats than nuclear war.
Trident and its cost – The government is in favour of replacing Trident at a cost of around £100 billion. This money would be enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5 million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools, or cover tuition fees for 4 million students. 
The UK has the poorest weaponry as far as nuclear arsenal goes. This will remain so even if replacement goes ahead. Not only do I think this is an immoral stance to take, it sets a bad example to the rest of the world. Who can blame others for wanting to go nuke when Britain persists?

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