Bath drones conference in the spotlight

Bath’s Assembly Rooms – Hosting Drones Conference in June

Next month the great and the good of the UK drones industry will gather together for a four-day conference in Bath.

Organised by Clarion Events and endorsed by the British drone lobby organisation, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association, the conference is billed as an opportunity to “meet leading civilian and military technology experts working on the next generation of unmanned systems” as well  as “listen to the leading thinkers and policy makers who are shaping UAS requirements for the future”

Local activists have begun to prepare for the conference, which is being held at the historic Bath Assembly Rooms between 25th and 27th June with a final day taking place at Larkhill Barracks in Salisbury.  Bath Stop the War Coalition and others are calling on the council to withdraw the letting of the Assembly Rooms to Clarion for the event and they are asking people far and wide to sign this petition on the local council’s website.

Others have written to the local press pointing out that “having been gutted by fire caused by incendiaries dropped in the final raid on Bath you would think that the Assembly Rooms would be a wholly unsuitable venue to showcase the latest methods of delivering aerial bombardment by remote control.” Still others have also been a teeny bit sarcastic!

If you would like to write to the council here is an open letter that can be used as inspiration:

An open letter from a local resident to B&NES Councillors:

I was appalled to read in the Bath Chronicle that B&NES Council is ‘delighted’ to welcome to this city a conference which, if successful, will find ever more efficient and sophisticated means of bringing death and destruction to innocent people. I refer to the proposed ‘Unmanned Aerial Systems’ conference at the Assembly Rooms in June.

While ‘Unmanned Aerial Systems’, or drones to give them their more common name, do have civilian applications such as surveillance or policing, their main use has been by the military. It is clear that this conference will be dominated by the military and their concerns. Please look at the website and you will see that over half of the featured speakers have direct links with the military. Also note that serving military personnel are encouraged to attend the conference for free.

The conference is sponsored by Qinetiq, a ‘defence systems supplier’ – in other words, an arms manufacturer – who boast that they are successful ‘in delivering improved capabilities and value for money’ – which in plain English means they are good at killing more people for less cost.

The conference is being organised by Clarion Events who also run and promote Britain’s largest and most notorious arms fair, the Defence & Security Equipment International. Each year this event generates a torrent of criticism as they invite arms dealers and military delegations from countries involved in conflict and human rights abuses, as well as those with desperately underfunded development needs. ‘Trade delegates’ from Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are very in much evidence – each of whom have turned their weapons on democracy protesters. Would you be happy to see such people using the Assembly Rooms?

Are you as councillors comfortable with ‘looking forward to welcoming delegates’ whose main achievement in life has been to devise a means of delivering death and destruction to over 3,000 men, women and children?

Does the Council ‘delight’ in the revenge attacks being inflicted on our troops in Afghanistan as a result of drone attacks on civilians?

Does the Council wish our city to be associated with what are now being classified as war crimes, carried out in countries we are not at war with, such as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia?

Surely it cannot have escaped your notice that the deployment of these drones is highly controversial? Has it passed you by that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is being sued over their use? Did you know that President Obama is being taken to court by the American Civil Liberties Union over the killing of three US citizens by CIA operated drones? Did you not read of international lawyers and Harvard scholars arguing that the drone strikes amount to little more than state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions? Drones are being used by the CIA in ways that are totally outside the accepted laws of war or the Geneva Convention.

The Mail on Sunday, a journal not generally noted for its pacifist, peacenik views, ran on April 22 a page and a half special report by Jemima Khan and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It detailed reports that drone strikes had led directly to the deaths of up to 815 people, including 175 children, as well as tens of thousands who have been maimed, crippled, orphaned or had their homes and livelihoods destroyed. These were people who were totally unconnected in any way with the ‘war on terror’, apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and are, by any definition of the term, ‘innocent civilians’ – perhaps the delegates you would welcome would be more comfortable in using the term ‘collateral damage’.

You should know that drones are now routinely and deliberately targeted at civilians, with attacks on the funerals of those killed in the initial drone strikes, which are then again repeated half an hour afterwards when medical personnel are on the ground treating the wounded. In the specific case reported in Mail on Sunday, a young man, Tariq Aziz, had had the courage to attend an international conference in Islamabad, hoping that the world would see the photographs he had taken of women and children from his village blown to pieces by the Hellfire missiles launched from drones; he himself was then targeted and killed three days later in a drone strike. Christof Heyns, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- Judicial Executions, says ‘to target civilians would be crimes of war.’

The Bath Historic Buildings website states ‘As part of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bath’s Historic Buildings take their social and ethical responsibilities very seriously.’ These ethical responsibilities extend to ‘Installing energy efficient light bulbs (where appropriate)’ and ‘Fitting new energy efficient hand dryers, along with sensor taps and urinals to save water’ but not, it seems, to caring about innocent lives.

Did the decision to host this conference create any debate amongst you? Did not one of you raise an objection to this event? Will not one of you now stand up for what is right and decent rather than what is expedient and convenient?

You must each consider the very real human cost in suffering and death that your individual support for this event will undoubtedly inflict on the innocent. By welcoming this conference to our city, you too are complicit in the commission and support of illegal activity. I can understand that those taking part in the conference have in some way managed to square their consciences with earning a livelihood from creating death dealing weapons but I expected better of our councillors. To echo Edmund Burke, ‘all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’.

Recent history has taught us that our leaders have consistently and wilfully ignored the truth in order to take us to war, squandering the lives of thousands of our armed forces and inflicting unimaginable misery and suffering on millions of civilians, whilst trading our security at home for power crazed adventures abroad. Are you willing to add to that process?

Whilst I accept that this group has every legal right to meet and discuss their vile activities, will the Council ‘delight’ in welcoming any activity just because it is legal? Shall we look forward to the Assembly Rooms hosting a meeting of the BNP? Or a tobacco industry exhibition? Or a lap dancing night? Or a reception for President Assad? They are all legal activities, but not ones which I want this city or its council to support in any way.

You cannot argue that because what these arms manufacturers do is legal makes this event legitimate. My answer is simple: it is not. It is morally and ethically wrong to use B&NES council controlled property to host this kind of event.

I urge you to examine your consciences, cancel this event and and change the rules governing the venues you control on our behalf, to prevent their use in the future by any people or organisations who have any connection with the arms trade, or the manufacture of weapons, or weapons systems and platforms.

Alfred Stock, Green Park, Bath.

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