Friday, 8 June 2012

Bath Drones Conference - Protests Announced


As reported in my previous posts on the subject, there is a huge drones conference happening in Bath Assembly Rooms from 25th-28th June. Plans are now being drawn up for protests before and during the event, and a petition calling for the event to be stopped can be found here.

So why all the fuss? Drones have many useful civilian uses that don’t involve weapons and killings - such as surveying the condition of rare habitats and searching for survivors following natural disasters. Part of the conference covers uses such as these, and no-one has a problem with this aspect of it. However, a quick glance at the website for the conference reveals that the military get to go for free. Non-military tickets are £2196 + VAT for the full conference. So, anyone with the intent of using drones for the good of humanity and the planet has to cough up a serious amount of money in order to get through the door, but military types who use drones to kill people get to go in for free? Yes, this is the world we live in.

OK, so the entry fee, or waiving of, is the responsibility of the organisers - so lets take a look at them. Clarion Events have the following to say about themselves regarding this matter:

"Clarion Events are the ONLY and FIRST organisation that has a policy of free military delegate places at our conferences. This means that the right people and organisations will attend and network with the RIGHT people."

Until recently, Clarion Events used to focus on events like The Baby Show and The Travel show. They now organise seven arms fairs managed by their Defence and Security department, which include DSEi (Defence Security and Equipment International), the world's largest arms fair, to which a large number of authoritarian regimes have previously attended. Their ethics, it seems, leave a lot to be desired.

So, what's so bad about drones? Drones are unmanned aerial systems that are controlled remotely. Most of them are used for surveillance. The ones that we're really concerned with here are those fitted with weapons, such as missiles, like the Predator and Reaper models. Drones have played a major role in the "War on Terror", featuring prominently in American and British military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, their efficiency has been called into question. Out of 60 strikes by American drones in Pakistan between January 2006 and April 2009, only 10 hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, and perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. Not only are innocents dying - survivors are becoming suicide bombers out of revenge for the attacks. Pakistan condemns the strikes and claim that they are fueling anti-US sentiment. A prominent lawer for the families of drone strike victims has been denied a US visa. Things haven't got better under Obama - Foreign Policy Magazine recently called him "Bush on steriods" and he holds weekly meetings to discuss drone strike targets. Drone strikes in Pakistan by the US currently occur every other day, with a recent strike killing 17 people. The official line is that these deaths are "militants". However, the Obama administration effectively considers all military-age males in a strike zone as "militants."

America is not alone in these strikes. Britain also has a presence in Pakistan with five armed Reaper drones and have carried out over 250 strikes.

Because strikes can now be carried out remotely, military action in other countries is now far easier and cheaper than before, with much fewer western military casualties - making military intervention and armed attacks more likely. Military pilots have claimed that drone operators cannot be trusted due to lack of contact with real world conditions on the ground and rewards for aggressiveness.

Police interest in drones is growing also, using small drones for surveillance. This article claims that Climate Camp and the Stonehenge summer solstice have been previous targets, and that police are interested in the larger military drones. There is a session by the police at the Bath conference.

At a recent drones conference in Bristol, a noise demo - "drown the drones" - took place outside and was attended by around 80 people.The Bath Drones Conference is bigger than the Bristol conference and several days of action are being planned by Bath Stop the Drones, comprised of members of Bath Stop the War Coalition, Bath Anti-Cuts Alliance, Occupy Bath, Bath People's Assembly, Black And Red Federation, Bath Trades Council, Bristol Against the Arms Trade and Bristol Anarchist Federation.

Plans during the event are yet to be announced in full. The information I have so far is as follows:

Benefit Gig:
'This Ain't Robot Wars' benefit gig for Bath Stop The Drones, Friday 22nd June, downstairs at the Hobgoblin pub on St James Parade, Bath, from 8pm, £3 entry; a night of punk, folko-pop, peace partying and droning on about UAVs; featuring 51st State (peace-punk duo from Somerset), Cosmo (one-man folk/rap/pop from Cardiff) + 1 more tbc

Public March:
Saturday 23rd – public march, meeting at 12:30 at Bath Abbey

Please help the cause by:
  • Telling your friends, family, workmates etc. about the conference and the march. 
  • Share this, and any other articles about the drones conference, on Facebook and Twitter etc. 
  • Write letters to your councillors and to local and national newspapers
  • Turn up for the march, benefit gig and protest events during the conference (to be announced).

Useful Links

Bath Stop the Drones
Bath Stop War Coalition
Bristol Against Arms Trade

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