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
Earlier this week Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud made a public vow to “modernize” Saudi Arabia signalling key reforms could be on the agenda in the Kingdom.
Since the Crown Prince was appointed as official heir to the throne in June 2017 he has launched a slick PR campaign to improve the country’s image on the world stage.
Just weeks ago the authorities announced that women in the country will finally be granted the right to drive a car. While this is undoubtedly a step forward for Saudi Arabian women, and a testament to the women’s rights activists who campaigned for the right for many years, it is extremely overdue and does not make up for the fact that they face widespread discrimination in other walks of life.
Commentators have hailed the Crown Prince’s promises of reform as signs that change is on the horizon for Saudi Arabia. But it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s worst abusers when it comes to human rights. The months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, have seen no improvements, instead, its already dire rights record has continued to deteriorate.
Here are five crucial things Saudi Arabia’s authorities urgently need to do to prove they are truly committed to reform:
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has killed and injured thousands of civilians during the Yemen conflict in recent years – many of them children. According to the UN Secretary General’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report 683 children were killed or injured by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition in 2016. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has also used cluster munitions – lethal explosive weapons which are inherently indiscriminate and are widely banned under international law because of the horrific injuries they can cause to civilians.
Published on Amnesty International on October 27, 2017.
The United Nations Human Rights Council should create an independent, international inquiry into abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch and 61 other national, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said today in a letter to council member countries.
Parties to the conflict continue to commit serious violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, the organizations said. Yemen is home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 7 million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition supporting it have failed to impartially and transparently investigate alleged abuses by their forces.
“What was a steady drumbeat of support for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses has become a crescendo,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council member countries should live up to their own mandate, heed these calls, and put in place a body to begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen’s war.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of OCHA, the UN’s lead humanitarian agency, and the Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen have also called for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses. They have been joined in the call by dozens of Yemeni organizations from areas under the control of both Houthi-Saleh forces and of the Yemeni government.
Since March 2015, the UN human rights office has specifically verified that at least 5,110 civilians have been killed and 8,719 wounded during the conflict, but believes “[t]he overall number is probably much higher.”
Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, and Houthi-Saleh forces have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in cities such as Taizz and Aden, that may also amount to war crimes. Both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists and other people, with the number of the “missing” growing across Yemen. Both sides have used widely banned weapons that can endanger civilians long after a conflict ends and have impeded the delivery of aid.
The Human Rights Council in 2015 and 2016 failed to create an international inquiry into Yemen abuses, instead endorsing processes that have – over the course of two years – failed to provide the impartial, independent, and transparent investigations needed to address the gravity of violations in Yemen. The 62 organizations that signed the letter urged the council to establish an independent, international inquiry with the mandate to establish the facts and circumstances, collect and preserve evidence, and clarify responsibility for alleged violations and abuses with a view to providing accountability in the long-term.
“Council member countries have twice capitulated to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition and failed to take a principled stance in the face of repeated war crimes and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Fisher said. “Governments this September should not cave to political pressure, but instead respond in a way that best helps the Yemeni people and ensures that the council lives up to its mandate by promoting accountability regardless of the parties involved.”
Published on HRW on August 29, 2017.
By Jackson Diehl
The never-ending circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency has sucked attention from all kinds of issues that desperately need it, from health-care reform to the creeping expansion of U.S. engagement in Syria. Still, it’s shocking that so little heed is being paid to what the United Nations says is the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945: the danger that about 20 million people in four countries will suffer famine in the coming months, and that hundreds of thousands of children will starve to death.
Not heard of this? That’s the problem. According to U.N. and private relief officials, efforts to supply enough food to stem the simultaneous crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are falling tragically short so far, in part because of inadequate funding from governments and private donors. Of the $4.9 billion sought in February by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for immediate needs in those countries, just 39 percent had been donated as of last week.
That resource gap could be attributed to donor fatigue, or to the sheer size of the need. But, in part, it’s a simple lack of awareness. “We can’t seem to get anyone’s attention to what’s going on,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and chief executive of Save the Children.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says David Beasley, the former South Carolina governor who heads the U.N. World Food Program. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump . . . and here we are in crisis mode.”
The statistics that Miles and Beasley reel off certainly ought to command attention. For example: 1.4 million children are at risk of starvation in the four countries, of whom 600,000 “could die in the next three to four months,” according to Beasley. In Yemen, where hunger stalks 17 million people, only 3.3 million are being provided with full rations, compared with the 6.8 million the WFP wanted to feed this month. Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic has erupted, infecting more than 200,000 people so far. Miles says another child is infected every 35 seconds.
There’s been some progress: In the South Sudanese state of Unity, which surpassed the U.N. standard for a famine designation earlier this year, the alert was lifted last week following some large and timely food deliveries. In Somalia, too, relief operations have been more effective than during the last declared famine, in 2011. And yet the overall situation in both countries is still frightening. Fully 50 percent of South Sudan’s population, or 6 million people, are expected to be “severely food insecure” in the coming weeks, an increase of 500,000 over May.
In Somalia, the failure of spring rains may push the country into famine status by next month, Miles says. Yet the WFP says it might have to cut off 700,000 Somalis from aid in the next few weeks if more funding does not come through.
Notwithstanding the anti-foreign aid posture of the Trump administration, the United States is not the problem here. By early June Washington had pledged nearly $1.2 billion in relief to the four countries, including a supplement of $329 million announced on May 24. There’s more coming, thanks to a bipartisan coalition in Congress, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Lindsay O. Graham, that inserted $990 million for famine relief into this year’s budget.
Aid officials said getting the money from Washington is a slow process, thanks to the failure of the new administration to fill key posts at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And for the year beginning in October, Trump’s budget proposes a drastic cut of $1 billion in food aid. But Graham and other key legislators have already made clear that it won’t happen. “For all the chaos,” Beasley told me, “Democrats and Republicans still come together for hungry children.”
The WFP leader is more impatient with other nations — especially the Persian Gulf states that have done so much to create the crisis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which led the military intervention that has devastated an already poor country since 2015, is partially blockading the vital port of Hodeida, through which 70 percent of Yemen’s food is imported. So far this year the Saudis promised $227 million in famine relief to Yemen but delivered only about 30 percent of that. The United Arab Emirates isn’t even on OCHA’s list of donors. “The Saudis,” says Beasley, “ought to fund 100 percent of humanitarian needs in Yemen. No question.”
Famines used to attract broad interest in the West. Rock stars led relief campaigns, and television networks produced special documentaries. U.S. nongovernmental organizations are looking for ways to similarly galvanize the country this summer. Millions of lives may depend on whether they can find a way to command attention in the age of Trump.
Published on The Washington Post on June 25, 2017.