Thank you for your Witness, Friends

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for all that you’ve done since we’ve been at DSEI.  Whether you joined the witness in person, or upheld us from afar, it has been wonderful to be with you in shining a light on the darkness of the arms trade, and building peace together as a community.

We will take time to reflect on our witness, and what we are called to do for peace, in the coming weeks and months.  In the meantime, here are a few follow-up points:

Post DSEI Debriefsonline on Tues 26th Sept – details below. We’re sorry that due to rail strikes the in-person debrief has been postponed.

Please share your thoughts – see requests for your feedback below.

For those in London the Art the Arms Fair exhibition continues at Gallery 46 in Whitechapel until Sunday. There are also some final protest events happening today (Weds 13th Sept).

Peace Pilgrimage Podcast – you can listen to all the episodes at your leisure.

Media Coverage – Quakers got a mention in the Guardian’s coverage of the arms fair, as well as several independent and faith outlets. There was also an excellent letter written by Quakers to their local paper the Crediton Courier. Why not write about your experiences to local media?

While we take great heart from witnessing together, if you find yourself tired, glum or raging after the exertion and emotions of the last few days, these are perfectly reasonable responses.  Remember to nourish and comfort yourselves, and check-in with those you travelled or buddied with.

Rest well and let’s look forward to a world of love, peace and justice, where no one is illegal – and a world free of arms fairs!

In peace,

The Quaker Roots organising team


We will hold two debrief sessions, one online and one in-person. These will be an opportunity to;

  • Reflect on our witness;
  • Share your thoughts on what went well and what we could learn from in future;
  • Consider our leadings, individually and as Quaker Roots

Online Debrief – Tues 26th September 7pm

Register to receive the Zoom details (if you are not already on our mailing list).

POSTPONED: In-person Debrief

Dear Friends, we’ve heard there is a rail strike taking place this Saturday which means that none of the core group or QPSW staff would be able to get to London. In the light of this we have reluctantly taken the decision to postpone the planned Debrief at Friends House London due this Saturday 30th.
We hope you understand and we apologise for any inconvenience this might cause.

Before taking a decision on re-booking Friends House, we have a couple of questions for you…

  • Would you still like an in-person debrief at Friends House?
  • Would you prefer a further online session on another day?


Share your thoughts

At Quaker Roots we would love to hear your reflections on our witness – thank you to those who have sent reflections already already –

QPSW would like also your thoughts on how Quakers in Britain supported us – with any thoughts on the following questions:

  • what QPSW/Quakers in Britain support worked well for you?
  • what QPSW/Quakers in Britain support could be improved?
  • what QPSW/Quakers in Britain support was missing?

Our Friends at NetPol would like to hear about people’s experiences interacting with the police –

Final Events at DSEI

Our friends at Art the Arms Fair and Demilitarise Education are continuing their exhibition We Ain’t dED Yet at Gallery 46, 46 Ashfield Street, Whitechapel, London, E1 2AJ 12-6pm each day until Sunday (17th Sept). This was recommended by a Friend on the way home from the vigil!

If you’re reading this on Wednesday there are also several events still happening today – see the Stop the Arms Fair website for more information.

Peace Pilgrimage Podcast

Thank you for upholding those of us undertaking a peace pilgrimage from Oxford to DSEI. Our experiences were captured in a podcast, alongside interviews with people we encountered on the way. Discussions on the themes of peace include personal experiences of living in conflict zones, the links between peace and climate, offering sanctuary for refugees, and the work of organisations such as the PPU and Rethinking Security. You can listen to all the episodes at your leisure.

Media Coverage

Singing at DSEI

Listen to the songs we will be singing at DSEI.

We’ve chosen simple, well know songs,  but you might find it useful to have a practice beforehand – below are videos of each of the 8 songs to help you.


  1. Dear Friends
  2. Singing for our Lives
  3. We shall overcome
  4. Dona Nobis Pacem
  5. Shalom, My Friend
  6. Vine and Fig Tree
  7. Under the Full Moonlight (Karen Beth)
  8. Mahalia Jackson Down by the Riverside


Dear Friends

Singing for our Lives

We shall overcome

Dona Nobis Pacem

Shalom, My Friend

Vine and Fig Tree

Under the Full Moonlight

Down by the Riverside


British arms used to suppress Bahrain’s struggle for democracy

Sayed from Bahrain offers this analysis of how the UK arms trade is connected to the suppression in his home country.

The Kingdom of Bahrain, where I was born, is a tiny island located in the Persian Gulf. It is ruled by the House of Khalifa, a Sunni royal family that governs with an iron fist over a majority Shia population.

Throughout the five-decade long rule of the monarchy, Bahrain’s population have regularly waged struggles for democracy and human rights and faced violent repression from the ruling regime as a result. Despite the end of British colonial rule formally in 1971, the UK continues to play a pivotal role in supporting the government through political support, military and police training, and arms sales.

2011 pro-democracy protests

In 2011, Bahrain was swept by the largest protests in its history, known as the Arab Spring. Inspired by the pro-democracy protests in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrain’s citizens took to the streets to demand their rights and call for democracy. The New York Times estimated that around 100,000 people, out of a citizen population of over 500,000, joined the protests. What began as a simple demand for some democratic reforms grew into calls by Bahrainis for an end to the two centuries of the Al-Khalifa monarchy. The streets were filled with slogans of hope, change, freedom, and democracy, with the slogan “The people want the downfall of the regime” reverberating throughout both the country and the Arab world.

This feeling of hope was brutally crushed by the Bahraini government that was determined to hold onto power at all costs. Protestors were arrested, imprisoned and some even killed. I personally experienced this violent repression in 2011 when during the protests, I was tortured by Bahraini authorities.

The sickle-shaped scar on my forehead is a reminder of the days that we lived in hope for freedom and the dreams that were so brutally crushed. After going public with what I had been subjected to, I was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. We were constantly threatened with torture, even when we stood in corridors outside the courtroom. I was held in Bahrain’s infamous Jau Prison, which today holds over 1,000 political prisoners. The prison is rife with psychological and physical torture, and is meant to break your soul—all this suffering for simply standing up for one’s ideals in Bahrain. After completing my six month sentence, I fled the country, fearing further abuse from Bahraini authorities, and sought refuge in the UK.

Role of UK arms in repression

It breaks my heart that the very country that provided me with asylum and shelter helps fuel repression in the country I was forced to flee and that Bahrainis continue to be subjected to.

The Al-Khalifa’s brutal crackdown on our hopes for a democratic Bahrain was aided and abetted by arms and other equipment exported to the regime from the UK. In 2010, the year before our peaceful uprising, the UK government exported tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain, both of which were used against protesters in Bahrain and led to fatalities.

In the months following the regime’s violent repression, the UK government approved the sale of over £1m worth of military equipment including licenses for gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft.

Bahrain is now one of the most repressive countries in the Middle East. Since the uprising, the Al-Khalifa’s have done everything they can to make sure that the events of 2011 do not repeat themselves. They have passed a series of laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly, and misused counter-terrorism laws to target anyone who opposed their despotism. With all opposition parties now outlawed, Bahrain’s elections are a sham, conducted in an atmosphere of repression and fear.

In spite of Bahrain’s worsening rights records, the UK’s cooperation with the country’s dictatorship has only increased, including arms sales. From 2012 to 2022, the UK approved a total of 408 military export licenses, to Bahrain, worth £185m.

Despite the regime’s clampdown on protestors, the government has been unable to solve the political crisis and conditions that led to the 2011 uprisings. As I write this, over 800 prisoners in the notorious Jau Prison are on hunger strike, leading to expressions of concern from the UN and State Department. Bahrainis once again have taken to the streets to express their solidarity with them and question the fact that so many political prisoners remain behind bars simply for expressing their right to freedom of speech over a decade ago.

With unrest stirring, the potential for another uprising continues and my fear remains that it may be once again brutally repressed with weapons provided by the U.K. Government. British politicians and citizens alike should be concerned that arms produced in this country have, and may once again, play a role in strangling the emergence of a Bahraini democracy in its infancy.

Witness at DSEI: Practical Information

As our witness at DSEI approaches, we wanted to put some practical information together in one place.

What to Bring

In 2019, Maya produced this great little zine, to help remind us how to prepare for DSEI practically & spiritually: Things to bring to DSEI

Things to protest with:

  • Banners
  • T-shirts / tote bags
  • Instruments / noise makers (not for the vigil or walk of witness!)
  • Postcards about why we are witnessing (we can provide)

Things to stay comfortable: ( the forecast is for hot weather, so please be prepared.)

  • A hat and appropriate clothing for the weather (loose fitting layers are good)
  • Suncream
  • Water bottle & reusable coffee cup
  • Food (there may be some vegan food available for a donation, but it’s best to also bring a packed lunch)
  • Snacks to share
  • Something to sit on (e.g. foldable stool, cushion)

Things in your head and heart

  • Commitment to non-violence
  • Discernment and support from your Quaker Community
  • Trust in your buddy or affinity group
  • Knowledge of your legal rights
  • Solidarity with people affected by the arms trade


There will be stewards around and an information point to help you know where to go. The Excel site is very large – this map of the Excel gives an indication of where we will be – at the East Gate at No Faith in War on Thurs 7th and near the Western Terrace for the vigil on Mon 11th and the opening day of the arms fair on Tues 12th.

Telegram: on the day (and in the build up) we will be staying in contact via Telegram – a messaging app similar to WhatsApp (but more secure). If you’re already confident with apps, search for Telegram and download (the logo is a paper plane), then get in touch for the links to join: .  If you’re not confident, staff will be around at Friends House, and stewards at the protest site, to give you a hand.

Food: Hot drinks will be available, please bring a reusable cup if you can. We hope that some vegan food will be available (for a donation if you can afford it).  However, it’s worth bringing a packed lunch, or being ready to get something from one of the shops near the Western Terrace.

Toilets There will be at least 2 standard portaloos and 1 accessible mobiloo at the site, perhaps more if funds can be raised.

Food, toilets and welfare / information tents have been organised by Stop the Arms Fair – if you can afford it, please consider donating towards their fundraiser.

Staying safe & well

At the protest site there will be a welfare tent available for No Faith in War on Thurs 7th Sept, and the opening day of the arms fair on Tues 12th Sept (this may still be at the East Gate on the 12th).  You can go there for some quiet space to clear your head, or for a friendly chat.  Members of the welfare team will also be looking out for people around the site and checking you’re OK.

If you want to get away from the protest site completely, the Garden Cafe on nearby Cundy Rd will be open 10am to 2pm.  Space will also be available at Friends House during the day on Thurs 7th, Mon 11th and Tues 12th to meet up with other Friends and have some quiet space.

We recommend having a buddy or buddies – a person or two who you will mutually check-in with and look out for each other.  If you’re travelling alone, come to Friends House to meet up with other Friends, form a small buddy group and travel over to the site together (the walk of witness will be leaving from Friends House too).

Bustcards will be available at the protest site and at Friends House – these have important information about who to call if you are arrested.  It’s worth everyone having one, just in case.  And you can read lots of information about knowing your rights on the Green & Black Cross website – we recommend starting with this guide to the key messages.


The Excel centre is on the Docklands Light Railway ‘Beckton’ line, which connects to central London at Tower Gateway, and to other DLR lines and the Jubilee line at Canning Town. Use the Prince Regent stop for No faith in War on 7th Sept, and Royal Victoria for the Vigil on Mon 11th and the opening day of the arms fair on Tues 12th. You can also take the Elizabeth line (Crossrail) to Custom House, and walk (or ride one DLR stop) to both locations.

If you’re planning to leave any bank cards with your name on behind (to avoid being identified) an Oyster card can be helpful (alternatively you can put tape over your name on a contactless card).

On Saturday 9th September, industrial action will affect Cross Country trains – this operator does not run direct services to/from London, but might affect a connection if you are travelling further that day. Check National Rail Enquiries for updates.


Listed roughly from most expensive to least expensive:

Hotels for the Excel Centre: The Excel is a conference centre, and so there are various chain hotels nearby, which will offer a comfortable room and easy access to the site.  Friends have previously used ‘Premier Inn Docklands’.

Hotels or hostels around London: Access to the Excel is via the Docklands Light Railway ‘Beckton’ line, so there may be cheaper options to stay near stops on the DLR or connecting lines.

Air BnB (or similar ‘holiday lets’) in Newham: In previous years some Friends have stayed in holiday lets in residential areas in Newham (the borough Excel is in), a walk or short DLR journey away. Note that there are ethical implications in using residential properties as holiday lets.

Stay with local Friends or meetings: we are looking to see if it is possible to stay with local Friends and/or on the floor of local meetings, perhaps for a small cost (under £10). If this is something you would be interested in, please get in touch and we see what can be arranged:

Camp at the protest site: some activists will be camping at the protest site, especially in the set-up week. You will need to bring your own tent and camping equipment.  Be aware that this is camping in a public area, not a private campsite.

Financial support

We understand that travel and accommodation can be expensive – Quakers have a long tradition of supporting Friends who are witnessing to our testimonies.  If you need financial support, please approach your local and/or area meeting in the first instance.  If you cannot raise sufficient funds from your meeting(s), get in touch with the Quaker Roots team who may be able to direct you towards other grants:

Could you help at DSEI?

Many thanks to those who have already indicated that they could help facilitate our witness at DSEI this September.  We wanted to offer a clearer idea of the different roles and what is involved.

For those who like to take in information a bit more visually, there is a summary of the key roles in our Volunteer Jamboard (a simple set of slides).  And if you’d like to chat about any of this, and meet others you might be volunteering alongside, please join our Volunteer Briefing on Tuesday 29th August.

Quaker Roots Roles

Quaker Roots are particularly organising volunteers for the No Faith in War day on Thurs 7th Sept, and the Walk of Witness on Mon 11th Sept. If you would like to help out on other days, we can put you in touch with Stop the Arms Fair who are helping coordinate actions.

Steward / helping at information point

  • Being friendly face as people arrive
  • Let people know when & where things are happening
  • Help Friends join Telegram group to get updates
  • Hand out bustcards, remind people of basic Know Your Rights info, point towards legal observers if needed
  • Have some postcards for members of the public who want to know what’s going on, engage them in conversation about DSEI
  • On Walk of Witness on 11th, help people stick to route, keep up with group

Pastoral friend / welfare

  • Potentially tense environment, people nervous about being there – talk to them, calm them, make them feel at ease
  • Reassurance, give space for people to talk or have some quiet
  • If people need to get away from the protest site altogether the Kitchen Garden café
  • Give out water and snacks, encourage people to check-in with their own needs.
  • If you are a qualified first aider – be on hand


  • Meetings for Worship – 7th Sept 9am, 1pm, 12th time TBC – uphold, explain at beginning, close at end, be aware that we may be continuing to worshipfully uphold people taking action
  • Epilogue 5pm on 7th – plan worship to provide sense of closure to the day (but action is ongoing through the week), can be a bit more programmed
  • General upholding of worshipful approach to protest across the 7th, atmosphere may be tense, secular activists may be unfamiliar with worshipful approach.
  • Uphold & respect other faith groups taking action in their own tradition.
  • On Walk of Witness on 11th uphold silent vigils (approx. 20 mins) at each stop

Creative actions

  • Singing – we have songs we’ve used in previous years, or bring your own. We can programme some times for singing, also can be useful to bring everyone together as led. BYM will organise amplification.
  • Banner making, t-shirts or tote-bag printing
  • If you have a craft you’re particularly into and can show people that’s great, otherwise just facilitate people.
  • Think about what’s needed in advance and liaise with Quaker Roots team to organise
  • Photos, videos or other ways to document the actions, we’ll put you in touch with team

Legal Support Roles

Legal observer

Legal observers are trained volunteers who support the legal rights of activists. They provide basic legal guidance and are independent witnesses of police behaviour at protests. Read more about what being a legal observer involves.

You need to be trained to do this role – if you already are, pease get in touch.  If you’d like to train, Green & Black Cross are running training sessions on 19th & 27th August (you need to attend both, and have already attended a Know Your Rights session). Register to receive the details.

Police Station Support

It is so important that we support arrestees, which includes meeting people at the police station when they’re released. Read more about what Police Station Support involves.

This would be an especially useful role for London-based Friends (you don’t need to have been at the protest to help with this role). Call outs for police station support during the DSEI arms fair protests will happen in a Signal group [sorry to involve another messaging app!]. If you would be willing and able to support in this way, please contact Dixie Wills at Quaker Peace & Social Witness:

Briefing for volunteers – Tues 29th Aug 7:00pm

This session will be an opportunity to:

  • Find out more about what these roles involve,
  • Ask questions, and decide what’s right for you,
  • Meet other people who will be volunteering alongside you,
  • Let us know your availability and preferences.

Find out more and register to receive the Zoom details.

Let us know if you would like to volunteer, but can’t make this session – we can send you information on the roles and be in touch about how to get involved.

Keeping each other safe around the police

Thinking about how we respond to authority can bring up difficult questions and strong feelings for many of us.

On 1st August, we held a session looking at the three key reasons why we are asked not to talk to the police during our actions, which centre around keeping each other safe:

  • To act consistently and in consensus with other groups taking action;
  • To avoid giving away information to intelligence gatherers;
  • To stand in solidarity with those who are disproportionately targeted by police violence.

Many thanks to those who participated, reflecting and listen to one another in the spirit of Advices and Queries 17:

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Friends gathered in small groups to discuss the question ‘why are we asked not to talk to the police during our actions?’  (And similarly why Quaker Roots and Stop the Arms Fair are not planning to engage the police beforehand). Here are some thoughts that arose:

Acting consistently with others

  • Making sure everyone is on the same page
  • Need to decide the level of risk we’re prepared to take – but not just making a decision on your own behalf – what we say and do affects others
  • Acting together helps strengthen our right to protest

The role of the police

  • Police are constantly information gathering
  • They’ve got a job to do, which is in tension with our right to protest
  • Can we trust the police? Be wary of appearance of friendliness, which may hide an agenda
  • Having these discussions can make us challenge our own compliance
  • Someone from BYM will be available to be a liaison on the day – they will know in advance what they’re going to say and not say


  • Solidarity with others – disproportionately affected by police violence
  • Level of risk is not equal for everyone
  • In particular: people of colour, young men, Muslims, trans people, people with insecure immigration status, are at greater risk
  • Avoid division between ourselves as ‘good’ protesters, and others as ‘bad’ protesters

Helpful approaches we might take:

  • Try not to seek engagement
  • Be polite but step away
  • Use each other’s names less – call each other Friend
  • Use the power of silence
  • Understand the context – might be different to everyday situation
  • Have a degree of suspicion, without letting it change us

Thanks to everyone for their helpful thoughts and challenging questions.  Hannah Brock-Womack wrote a helpful blog ahead of our actions in 2021, which remains a useful reflection on these issues:

Trying to be salt and light: interacting with the police at protests

Know Your Rights

Quaker Roots take our position on interacting with the police in line with Green & Black Cross’ (GBC) key advice for protesting.

  • No Comment
  • No Personal Details
  • Under What Power?
  • No Duty Solicitor
  • No Caution

If you’ve not attended one before, GBC are offering three online Know Your Rights training sessions in August. At Quaker Roots we recommend these sessions for those joining our actions at DSEI, especially if you have questions or are feeling unsure about recent changes to protest law.

Read more and register on the GBC website.

Maintaining Hope

Finally, we ended the session by remembering that the police are not the primary reason we will be witnessing at DSEI.  We recalled the powerful testimony of our speakers at the Human Cost of War event.  And we concluded with some helpful words written by Rebecca Solnit, on the power of hope:

“Hope is not happiness or confidence or inner peace; it’s a commitment to search for possibilities.”

Arms trade and human cost of war in Sudan

Many thanks to Salih for speaking at our event The Human Cost of War on 19th July.  You can read Salih’s reflections below, based on his experience of war in Sudan. While on the day we focused on human stories, for this post Salih felt it important to give us some context to the violence in Sudan. The video of our speakers is also available.

Country profile

Named the republic of Sudan after the independence from the British colonial rule in 1956 is in Northeast of the African continent (Horn of Africa Region). Boarders the Central African Republic to the Southwest, Chad to the West, Egypt to the North, Eritrea to the Northeast, Ethiopia to the Southeast, Libya to the Northeast, South Sudan to the South and the Red Sea to the East. It has population of forty million people and occupies an area of 728,215 square miles (use to make Africa’s largest country until the secession of South Sudan in 2011). The Capital city is Khartoum located in the centre of the country where the blue and White Nile Rivers joint and create the great Nile River running down North stream to its Mediterranean estuary in Egypt.

Political history and previous conflicts

Due to failure in nation-state building, rule of law and multicultural governance, the country never experiences sustainable peace and political stability since the independence in 1956, when it descended into a series of violent Intra-state conflicts. the first war broke out in the south of the country in 1955 just a couples of months before the Independence Day. The south Sudanese (dominantly native African Christian and atheist groups) rejected their annexation to the North (mainly Muslim Arabs descendants’) which dominate the new national state and control the natural resources with the aims to deculturize and assimilate the native African Sudanese into state adopted Arab-Islamic traditions to consolidate grip of power and hegemony. This war alone, has cost more than 1.5 million lives, millions other injured and internally/externally displaced civilians. Eventually, this war ended through a political settlement in 2004 which guaranteed the right to self-determination for the South Sudanese.

In 2011 through a popular referendum, the South Sudanese overwhelmingly opted for independence and secession from the motherland however, new violent civil conflicts emerged in other parts of the country including Darfur region which, experienced a brutal and ferocious response by the Sudanese national army backed by allies the notorious Arabs militias (Janjaweed). Allegations of heinous atrocities: genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes perpetrated by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militias against the black Darfurian civilian population prompted an international investigation by the United Nation International Criminal Court ICC in The Hauge/The Netherlands. Eventually, an arrest warrant against by then sitting president Al-Bashir and other state officials was issued by the ICC but not executed to the day due to lack of cooperation by the current Sudanese government.

Current active violent conflict

In April 2019, the notorious regime of president AL-Bashir was toppled after months of peaceful popular protest, strikes and civil disobedient raising expectation of the Sudanese people for transition to civilian democratic that would profoundly resolve historical grievances, injustice and remove root-causes of conflicts through a transitional justice and national reconciliation processes.

transitional power sharing arrangement between civilian and military leaders was agreed to stir the country and prepare for a general election in three years period. soon nevertheless, became clear that there is a serious security threat and impediment to the entire political transition process as the Janjaweed militia transformed itself into a powerful paramilitary (Rapid Support forces RSF) that rivalling the legitimate national army with political ambitions, economics influence and strong external relations with some regional and global powers such as Russia which has vital interests in Sudan and uses the Janjaweed militia as a proxy to materialize these interests. Russia has secured the flow of weapons and military supplies to the Janjaweed militia through Wagner Group PMC in return for free access to gold sources in different parts of the country.

The situation of having two separate military powers in one country has created political and economic fragility and volatility as the power-struggle between the two for the control of the Sudanese state institutions and the national wealth intensified by; military built-up by both sides, coupled by divisive political polarization and mobilization among various Sudanese communities increasing the likelihood of violent conflict.

On the morning of April 15th 2023, the rhetorical rivalry between the national army and RSF forces took a different violent course when clashes of airstrikes, artillery and gunfire were reported throughout the country. however, the intense fighting concentrated within the Capital city and Darfur region to the west. All regional and international mediation efforts to stop the fighting failed so far as the war still waging on claiming thousands of innocent lives, destroying infrastructures, impeding provision of basic social services, and threatening to spill over beyond to the neighbouring countries.

The impact on civilian population

Unequivocally, the impact of the war in Sudan so far is colossal on all aspects of the country. Images and videos from news outlet and social media reflect the level of damage and destruction to vital public infrastructures, state buildings and private properties. These material cost of war nonetheless, are possible to be repaired and rebuild when the war ends. the human cost however, is likely to affect generations to come. As the reports on 25th July 2023 suggest, between 5,000 and 7,000 civilians were killed and 10,000 to 15,000 others injured as a result of the fighting between the two forces. Furthermore, reports from June 2023 estimate more than 3.5 million civilian Sudanese have been internally displaced while 1.5 million others fled to neighbouring countries and became refuges.

Reports have indicated that civilians of all ages are experiencing various human rights abuses, including sexual assault and gender-based violence, as well as looting and shortages of food, water, healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, fuel and other basic goods and services, and collapse in communication channels. Densely populated residential areas of Khartoum, Bahri, Omdurman and towns in Darfur and North Kordofan are facing electricity cuts, a lack of healthcare and basic services, while running out of food, water, and medicines. Some infrastructure and services, including 11 hospitals that have been attacked, have collapsed. A shelter for girls with disabilities in Khartoum was shelled leading to the death of a girl and injuring another. A shelter for older women in Khartoum was reportedly also damaged.

Arms trade fuelling violent conflicts in Sudan

The proliferation of arms and ammunition in Sudan may originally, a legacy of the cold-war era and spill over from conflicts in the region. Various Sudanese governments however, played crucial roles in arming non-state militant groups in the country fuelling a cycle of violent intrastate conflicts and political unrests as in the case of South Sudan, southern regions of Blue Nile, south Kordofan and Darfur region.

In July 2004, in response to the global outcry over the humanitarian crisis being caused by the violent in Darfur, the United Nation Security Council adopted Resolution 1556. The resolution established a ban on the sale of arms to non-governmental groups and individuals, including the Janjaweed militia. The resolution moreover called on the Sudanese government meet its obligation of disarming Janjaweed militia. Nevertheless, Resolution 1556 fell short to include other government backed militia. United Nation Resolution 1591 in 2004 however, extended the ban of arms sale to include the Sudanese national security forces. Since the illegal flow of arms continued despite the previous two resolutions on arms embargo, comprehensive arms embargo Resolution 1945 in 2010 was therefore adopted by all member states of the Security Council with only China abstaining.

According to HART 2015 report on the arms trade in Sudan, Sudan is one of the heavily armed countries in the world as the accessibility of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has been a cause of regional and global concern as it instigates and escalate violent conflicts and instability. China and Russia are evidently; are the main suppliers of arms to Sudan in return oil and gold.

Reflections on the Human Cost of War from Anna Stavrianakis

Many thanks to Anna for speaking at our event The Human Cost of War on 19th July.  You can read Anna’s reflections below, based on her research and teaching about war and the arms trade at the University of Sussex .  The video of our speakers is also available.

Thank you Robin and Quaker Roots for the invitation. And thank you Burhan, Salih and Sukaina for sharing your experiences of war.

I would like to make three points about the UK arms trade and its role in war: first, what drives the UK arms trade; second, the limits of export controls; and third, the importance of direct action.

What drives the UK arms trade

What drives the UK arms trade is a combination of state geopolitical interest plus the close relationship between the state and arms industry. By that, I mean the deep commitment across the British government and establishment – across both Conservatives and Labour – that Britain should try to remain a great power and have the military might to be one. This is combined with the deep, entrenched relationship between the state and arms companies. The arms industry’s interests are represented within the state: there is a government body dedicated to promoting arms exports. Called UK Defence and Security Exports (note that they don’t call them arms!), this body provides support to companies to advertise at arms fairs like DSEI: they offer help with government-to-government relationships, bilateral meetings, VIP programmes, presentations on what the weapons can do.

And beyond this immediate support for companies to hawk their wares, the preparation for war is paid for by taxpayers. BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms company, routinely portrayed to us as contributing to jobs and the economy, pays less than 15% of its own research and development. The rest is paid by the state. So the costs are socialised – but the profits are privatised. And the arms industry is increasingly owned by major asset managers and investment funds, whose returns flow to wealthy individuals, pension funds, and foundations. At the time of a cost of living crisis, if the plight of our darker skinned friends doesn’t move us, the hit on our pockets just might.

The limits of export controls

The second thing I’d like to share is about the limits of UK arms export controls. On paper, the controls are clear that the government will not allow arms exports where there is a clear risk they might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. But we have seen direct evidence of the misuse of UK-supplied weapons. To give you an example from my home town, Brighton: a fragment of a guidance system for a bomb, with the markings of the EDO factory up the road, was found at the site of an airstrike on a factory in Sanaa, Yemen. The UN Panel of Experts concluded it could only have been dropped by the Saudi led coalition and that it was a likely violation of international law.

But it’s more than simply a case of the controls not being worth the paper they are written on. The government – again, whether Conservative or Labour – makes great play of its controls. They use them to justify and legitimise British involvement in the arms trade. Ask the government pretty much any question you like about its arms exports, and the answer you will always get is that the UK has one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. That’s why Campaign Against Arms Trade took the government to court about its arms exports to Saudi Arabia – three times. The first time, the High Court found in the government’s favour, on the grounds that government policy was legally rational. That doesn’t mean it was a good policy, but that it was rational in narrow legal terms. The second time around, when CAAT appealed, the government was found to have not even tried to conduct a meaningful risk assessment of the past use of weapons and told it had to stop issuing licences to Saudi Arabia. The government amended some other licences to ensure that companies could carry on transferring weapons under licences that had previously been grated; and conducted a whitewash internal review saying that any violations were isolated incidents, and couldn’t be said to constitute a pattern. So CAAT took them to court again. The decision was released last month – disappointingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, it found in favour of the government. Again, the decision was on the narrow grounds of legal rationality.

The importance of direct action

Which takes me to my final point: the necessity and urgency for direct action against the arms trade. We are far beyond the point of saying, we should write to our MP; you should join a campaign group (although these are, of course, good things to do!). NGOs and specialists have been trying to engage with MPs, officials, those who have the power to change things from within, for years, trying to hold them to their commitments. The strength of the controls, such as they are, is largely down to NGOs in the British arms transfer control community. We cannot rely on the law to protect the right – the law protects the powerful. And the government is committed to exporting weapons when it deems it in its interest, regardless of the consequences. This runs alongside an increasingly racist and violent orientation towards migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – the latter often being the very people who are displaced by the wars facilitated by UK- supplied weapons.

To my mind, the significance of direct action is solidarity – not sympathy. The public outpouring of support for Ukrainians fleeing war has been both wonderful and troubling. When faced with people widely understood by white Britain to be “like us” and feeling from a familiar foe, Russia, people get it. But where has that widespread support been for Syrians, whose war couldn’t have been conducted without Russian support, and for Sudanese and for Yemenis? In this country, racially minoritized people experiencing and escaping conflict are portrayed either as terrorists, who need to be punished; or as interchangeable, often starving, poor brown and black people, often children, who deserve sympathy at best. Too rarely are they portrayed as political agents and actors with whom we could act in solidarity. The UK is caught up in crises over Brexit, the cost of living, Tory drama: it is not obvious that there is a social force of solidarity. It is up to us to show otherwise.

Text delivered at Quaker Roots event, ‘The Human Cost of War,’ 19 July 2023

Anna Stavrianakis, University of Sussex,