Activists held a protest on Thursday afternoon, climbing onto the roof of Brussels arms company SABCA (Sociétés Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aéronautiques) to unfurl a massive banner reading ‘War Starts Here,’ and spreading fake blood at the factory gate.
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, 316 million euros have already flowed into the military aviation sector,” said the organisation Vredesactie, which means “Peace Action,” in a press release.
Vredesactie says the protest was meant to denounce the export of Belgian arms to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the activists called on the government to close loopholes in arms export legislation.
“War starts at SABCA, it is here that we can stop it,” said the activists, who say that weapons technology from SABCA is used in the wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Flemish government grants licences for arms export but does not check who eventually uses the weapons,” Vredesactie said in its statement.
“Without much control, Flemish arms end up in conflict areas via diversion.”
The activists called out Turkey as a specific example of this, saying that the export of parts from SABCA for Turkish military planes play an important role in the supply of weapons and troops for military interventions in Northern Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya.
Last year, the United Nations reprimanded Turkey for violating the international arms embargo on Libya.
“The authoritarian government of Erdogan pursues an aggressive foreign policy and is involved in several regional armed conflicts, yet we see that the Flemish government refuses to stop the arms export to Turkey,” said Orhan Kilic, one of the activists.
Vredesactie said that according to research by the Flemish Peace Institute, in 70% of cases, the Flemish government does not check where Flemish weapons end up.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Flemish Peace Institute (which is a research institute at the Flemish Parliament) found that Belgium, with a licensed arms export of 1.16 billion euros in 2018, is in eighth place when it comes to supplying arms to Sauri Arabia, after the ‘big five’ (France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom), Poland and Austria.
“Firearms, ammunition and (parts for) armoured vehicles and aircraft represent the lion's share of Belgian arms exports in 2018,” said the Flemish Peace Institute, adding that the vast majority of these arms exports came from the Walloon Region.
SABCA was owned by the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Group and Dutch aerospace company Fokker, and was initially founded in 1920 with the purpose of locally designing and building aircraft to satisfy Belgium's emerging aviation needs.
Dassault Group sold its stake in the company in 2020, and the Belgian government's investment fund SFPI-FPIM took over.
SABCA operates in Brussels (its headquarters and the main centre of operations), Charleroi, Limburg and Casablanca, Morocco.
“Both through the arms export itself and through investments, our governments are helping to maintain the conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupation of Western Sahara,” Vredesactie said in its statement.
“War therefore literally starts here.”
Bram Vranken of the organisation added, “It is unjustifiable that the arms industry can count on millions of euros in state aid.”
“It is high time to put human lives above economic profit,” said Vranken. “It is high time to stop exporting weapons to conflict areas.”