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
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.