Norway has suspended exports of weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates over concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition formed in 2015 to fight the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.
While there is no evidence that Norwegian-made ammunition has been used in Yemen, there was a rising risk related to the UAE’s military involvement there, the ministry said.
“The decision reflects the strict precautionary approach taken by Norway,” it added.
Existing export permits had been temporarily revoked and no new licenses would be issued under the current circumstances. The decision was made on Dec. 19, but was not made public until Wednesday.
In 2016, Norwegian exports of weapons and ammunition to the UAE rose to 79 million Norwegian crowns ($9.7 million) from 41 million in 2015, Statistics Norway data showed.
Human rights groups and several members of Norway’s parliament have for months campaigned for a halt in arms exports to the UAE.
“It is fantastic that the government finally has taken responsibility to end weapons exports to a country which is active in the bombing of schools and hospitals in Yemen,” said Line Hegna, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian branch of charity Save the Children.
“Furthermore, we are hopeful that the decision taken by the Norwegian government can act as an example for other exporting nations to act responsibly in the face of repeated violations of international humanitarian law,” she added.
Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang on Tuesday published what it said was video footage of a small remote-operated submarine captured by Houthi rebels and produced by Norwegian defense contractor Kongsberg Gruppen.
“This submarine has been seized in Yemeni waters and it belongs to the Saudi-American enemy,” a voice in the video said.
Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the footage.
Kongsberg Gruppen, which is 50 percent owned by the Norwegian government, declined to comment on the Verdens Gang story, while the foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of the vessel’s origins.
The Houthi news agency al-Masirah published similar video footage on Jan. 1 which it said showed the capture of a military reconnaissance submersible device by their naval frogmen. It did not specify the origin of the device or refer to Norway in its report.
The sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members has also stirred debate in other European countries, including Britain. Last July, London’s High Court rejected a claim by campaigners that billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted because they were being used in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law.
The Department for International Trade said on Wednesday that the British government “operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world”.
“We rigorously examine every application, including those from the UAE, on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. We will not grant a license if to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria,” a spokesperson said.
The opposition Labour party, however, said it would continue to call for the suspension of all British arms sales to Saudi Arabia “until there is evidence of a complete halt to the use of British weapons against any civilian population”.
While weapons exports to the UAE have been allowed since 2010, Norway does not permit sale of arms or ammunition to Saudi Arabia.
The Norwegian parliament’s foreign relations committee is due to debate the country’s arms sales later this month.
UAE officials were not immediately available for comment.
Published on Reuters on January 3, 2018
More than four years after the United Nations (UN) voted to adopt a landmark treaty to regulate the international arms trade, major arms exporters including the UK and France are effectively ignoring their treaty obligations by continuing to supply arms even where there is a real risk they could contribute to serious human rights violations, Amnesty International said today.
Diplomats will meet in Geneva today for the start of the third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT sets out prohibitions to stop the international transfer of arms when it is known they would be used for war crimes, or where there is an overriding risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.
“About half a million people are killed every year by firearms, and millions more are trapped in brutal conflicts fuelled by reckless arms sales. The Arms Trade Treaty promised to save countless lives by reigning in this massive, secretive industry, but at the moment weak implementation and a lack of transparency are threatening to undermine it,” said James Lynch, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
“We are urging States Parties to double down on their commitments under the treaty, and to hold each other to account for reckless and potentially unlawful arms transfers. There is no time to waste - people around the world are being killed, maimed and terrorized by weapons which should never have been transferred in the first place.”
Ignoring their obligations
Under the ATT, exports of conventional weapons cannot take place if there is an overriding risk they could contribute to serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. Amnesty International has highlighted several examples where States Parties appear to have broken their obligations under the treaty.
For example, many States Parties including France, the UK and Italy have supplied Egypt with a range of conventional weapons that could be used for internal repression including light arms and ammunition, despite the Egyptian government’s violent crackdown on dissent which has resulted in thousands of protesters being killed, tortured and injured.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from 2012-16, the period in which Egypt experienced an unprecedented crackdown, 80% of Egypt’s imports of major conventional weapons came from the US (a signatory to the ATT) or France.
Several governments have also continued to lavish weapons on Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming and credible evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, during which time the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has bombed schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, the UK has approved exports of licences worth over £3.7 billion to Saudi Arabia.
According to SIPRI, Saudi Arabia is the US and UK’s largest trading partner for heavy conventional weapons. Exports to Saudi Arabia made up 13% of the US’s total military exports and 48% of the UK’s arms exports in 2012-16. Just under 80% of all Saudi Arabia’s imports of major conventional weapons in 2012-16 came from the US and the UK.
In May 2017, the US agreed $110 billion worth of potential arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The deals include $4.6 billion worth of guided air-to-ground munitions - a total of 104,000 bombs of the type that have been used routinely in the Yemen war. Recent deliveries in 2015-16 include 13,726 anti-tank missiles; 3,870 guided bombs; 60 combat helicopters and 1,279 armoured vehicles and 4 fighter ground attack aircraft.
In the same period the UK delivered 20 Fighter Ground Attack Typhoon Block 20 aircraft worth $1.15 billion; 2,400 guided Paveway bombs worth $48 million; 50 Storm Shadow/ SCALP cruise missiles worth $70 million; and two Air Refuelling systems worth $20 million.
According to SIPRI data, other significant suppliers of heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia since the start of the conflict in Yemen include France ($218 million); Spain ($196 million) and Switzerland ($186 million); Italy ($154 million); Canada ($115 million); and Turkey ($91 million).
Transparency saves lives
Under the ATT, all States Parties are required to submit annual reports on their arms imports and exports – something that is vital to shed light on the international arms trade, which has long been shrouded in secrecy.
As the ATT has no independent verification mechanism to ensure compliance with the rules regarding transfers, public annual reports on imports and exports are crucial for allowing parliaments, media and civil society to scrutinize the conduct of governments.
However, so far only 48 out of 75 States Parties have submitted an annual report on their 2016 arms imports and exports, and 13 governments, including Iceland and Nigeria, still have not even submitted a report for their 2015 arms exports and imports.
Many reports are also full of inconsistencies and gaps:
“One of the key aims of the ATT is to make the arms trade more transparent; yet states are still leaving out crucial information about who they are selling weapons to and how many, and what type of, arms they are importing,” said James Lynch.
“This is not just an administrative concern. The fact that some states are choosing to leave huge gaps, or simply not submit their reports at all, raises disturbing questions about what they are trying to hide.
“With transfers of major conventional weapons at their highest volume since the end of the Cold War, and weapons continuing to flow into conflict zones and countries rife with internal repression, States Parties need to remember the purpose of this treaty: to reduce human suffering. They must use this week’s meeting as an opportunity to ensure that all exporters and importers are held accountable to that aim.”
After more than 20 years of campaigning by Amnesty International and partner NGOs in the Control Arms Coalition, the UN General Assembly voted decisively to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) text in April 2013. The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014.
The ATT is a global treaty that sets out, for the first time, prohibitions to stop the international transfer between states of weapons, munitions and related items when it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. States Parties must conduct an assessment of the ‘overriding’ risk that potential arms exports could contribute to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
130 states have now signed the treaty, with 92 of those having ratified it, including five out of the top ten arms exporters: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. However, major arms traders Russia and China have not yet joined the ATT. The US has signed but not ratified. By signing the ATT governments agree not to take any action that would undermine the treaty’s object and purpose.
Global spending on arms
Global exports and imports of major conventional weapons
Transfers to the Middle East
Small Arms and Light Weapons
Published on AI on September 11, 2017.
By Damien Gayle and John Thalassites
Anti-war activists have begun a week of protests in east London in an effort to stop weapons and military equipment arriving at Britain’s biggest arms fair.
The biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), which bills itself as “the world leading event” for buyers and sellers of military equipment, begins next week at the ExCeL centre in Docklands.
More than 34,000 visitors are expected to attend the arms fair, including delegations from regimes accused of human rights abuses such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as representatives of the world’s 10 biggest arms companies.
Keynote speakers include Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, and Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, as well as the chiefs of staff of the British armed forces.
Thousands of protesters are expected to take action outside the the ExCeL centre throughout the week, with blockades, actions and demonstrations outside all main entrances in an effort to hamper exhibitors from setting up their stands for the four-day event, which opens on 12 September.
Protests on each day will have a different focus, from nuclear weapons to arms to Israel to free movement for people rather than weapons. Opponents to the fair say that some of the world’s most oppressive regimes are represented among buyers.
On Monday, protesters were demonstrating against arms to Israel. By 3pm, police had already made six arrests, according to Kat Hobbs of Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
“Five were arrested for obstructing the highway and one person was arrested when they climbed under one of the vehicles and attached themselves to it,” she said.
Among those arrested was Reverend Enid Gordon, a Methodist minister from North Shields. “I walked in front of the road when I saw a lorry coming, then other people joined. The other people left and I found myself the only one there,” she said.
Gordon said police at the custody suite she was taken to looked embarrassed to find a 4 ft 8 in clergywoman in detention. “The guy behind the counter seemed – and this is body language, so it’s my interpretation – he didn’t want to really be doing it.”
She added: “I didn’t want to be a naughty girl, I just wanted to protest! I know it’s against the law, but I think selling weapons is against the law. I just think we shouldn’t be selling weapons to Israel…and particularly to Saudi Arabia. It’s obscene, it’s against God’s will. I feel this [protesting] is more of God’s will.”
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which is helping to coordinate protests, said: “DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.
“Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in? War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI. It’s time to shut it down for good.”
Last year, nine defendants had charges of obstructing the highway outside DSEI dismissed after they successfully argued that they acted to stop greater crimes being committed using weapons bought in the UK.
“The defendants’ belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by … detailed expert evidence,” said district judge Angus Hamilton as he dismissed the charges at Stratford magistrates court after hearing that illegal items, including torture implements and cluster munitions, had been found to be marketed there in previous years.
Angela Ditchfield, one of the nine defendants prosecuted last year, was present on Monday with her two sons. She said: “the case was stressful in some ways, but nothing compared to what people are going through in other countries where these weapons are in demand. I can’t turn away because things are difficult for me.”
“In some ways, the case strengthened my determination because we had a week of horrific evidence, going into detail about what’s happening in Yemen, and how the famine and cholera there is being fuelled by the British arms trade.”
Adie Mormech, from Manchester, had brought dozens of cardboard coffins, decorated with pictures of Palestinian children killed by Israeli drone strikes. He said he had seen the bloodshed caused by the occupation of Gaza as a teacher there. “Israel is using Gaza as a laboratory,” he said. “It’s testing a product that blows these kids up. I taught a family that lost 29 members in three days.”
He added: “It’s a horrible thing to imagine these little kids in coffins, but these were real kids and we wanted to show the connect between these people making money and this.”
More than 1,600 makers and sellers of weapons and military equipment will exhibit at this year’s DSEI, according to the exhibition’s website. “Visitors can enjoy a range of exciting showcases and demonstrations, visiting ships and world class speakers,” it says.
Published on The Guardian on September 4, 2017.
Campaign groups and legal experts have called on the UK to end arm sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies, warning that continuing to do so may be in violation of international law.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR) said British manufactured weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt were being used to carry out abuses in Yemen and Libya.
"[AOHR] is calling on the UK government to review its role in the sale of arms to a number of Arab governments that are known for gross human rights violation," the statement read.
In the past three years, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth $4.7bn, $1.6bn to the UAE, and $208m to Egypt.
During that period, the countries have been involved both directly and indirectly in conflicts in Libya and Yemen, where they face accusations of war crimes and other abuses.
"A Saudi-led coalition has killed hundreds of Yemenis, destroyed scores of homes in addition to obliterating most of Yemen's core infrastructure," the AOHR said, adding: "Saudi Arabia has also turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by UAE in southern parts of the country."
"The UAE has bought the loyalty of several tribal leaders and formed militias that continue to commit war crimes," the rights group said.
Last week, a report by Human Rights Watch accused the UAE of operating secret prisons in Yemen where torture was commonplace, and of carrying out forcible disappearances of its opponents in the country.
In Libya, the UAE has transferred British-produced arms to the renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is also accused of a raft of abuses, including indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and summary executions.
Legal caseSpeaking at a news conference accompanying the AOHR statement, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said the UK was complicit in alleged Saudi-led coalition abuses in Yemen.
"UK-made fighter jets are flying over Yemen, where they are being flown by UK-trained personnel and dropping UK-made bombs. The UK could not be any more complicit, " he said.
"The war [in Yemen] has led to social breakdown, including the destruction of schools, hospitals, and even funerals have become the sites of brutal massacres.
"We believe that the UK’s conduct in arming and supporting this brutal bombardment has not just been immoral, it has also been illegal."
CAAT is awaiting the verdict of a judicial review it lodged in February, which is aimed at halting British arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Under both British and EU law, export licences must not be granted if there is clear risk that weapons could be used to contravene international law.
Human rights lawyer Sue Willman, who was also present at the event, said the UK was reluctant to accept the scale of evidence proving its weapons were being used to commit violations.
"The [UK] must deny export if it is clear that military technology might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law," she said.
"I think the lesson of the CAAT case is that even when there’s overwhelming evidence of abuses, the UK government continues to claim that there’s no evidence, and then insist on filing secret evidence, making it harder for us to challenge it."
Long standing tiesThe UK is one of the top suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, signing major arms deals with the pair.
Under the Conservative government of John Major and the later Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the UK sold scores of Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets in exchange for oil shipments and tens of billions of pounds.
Those deals, known collectively as al-Yamamah, were riddled with accusations of corruption, with leading manufacturer BAE Systems accused of paying bribes worth tens of millions of dollars to Saudi officials to secure the purchases.
The deals were the subject of an investigation by the UK's Serious Fraud Office, which was later dropped after intervention by Blair.
While the current British government, under Prime Minister Theresa May, seems set to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia, all major opposition parties are opposed to the transfer of arms.
Labour's current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been an outspoken critic of arming Saudi Arabia and its involvement in Yemen.
The Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, and Green Party are also opposed to weapons sales to the country.
In a heated exchange in parliament on Monday, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson whether he was "proud" of his role in selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which were later used in Yemen.
Johnson responded: "Of course a humanitarian disaster is taking place, but it is a folly and an illusion to believe that that humanitarian disaster is in any way the responsibility of the UK."
War in YemenSaudi Arabia began its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015 after Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took over large swaths of the country, including its capital, Sanaa.
The war has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians, according to the UN, and has left it on the verge of famine with several urban centres besieged by either pro-rebel or pro-government forces.
The UN and rights groups have accused Riyadh and its allies of violating international law by targeting civilians, including the October 2016 bombing of a funeral procession in the Yemeni capital, which left at least 140 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
Published on Al Jazeera on June 28, 2017.