REVIEW - Watchdog Sounds Alarm As Western Arms Allegedly Diverted To Unaccountable Yemen Militias

REVIEW - Watchdog Sounds Alarm as Western Arms Allegedly Diverted to Unaccountable Yemen Militias

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 08th February, 2019) A new damning report about Western arms supplies allegedly being siphoned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to unaccountable Yemen militias has unlocked the eternal debate whether European exporters are scrupulous enough and whether they are actually ready to abandon lucrative trade.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International published a report, arguing that the UAE diverted arms imported from Western nations to Yemeni militias accused of war crimes and other serious violations.

The watchdog lamented that Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, among others, had continued their supplies in disregard for crimes attributed to both the UAE and militias it backs.

Yemeni Ambassador to Russia Ahmed Salem Wahishi, however, refuted the report in an interview with Sputnik on Thursday, stating that the imported weapons had been used by the Yemeni government's armed forces and the popular resistance groups, but not by militias.

EXPORTERS MUST NOT SIMPLY TRUST WORD 'ALL IS FINE'

Over the last few years, the Gulf states indeed have been caught in a real buying fever. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer after India in 2013-2017, with arms imports increasing by 225 percent compared to the previous five years.

The UAE similarly has been in the international focus too, while being a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The largest arms suppliers of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, but also Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Canada, SIPRI said.

According to the Amnesty International report, since the start of the Yemen conflict, at least $3.5 billion worth of arms were sent to the UAE only. The numbers, meanwhile, are much higher for Saudi Arabia, totaling some around $50 billion.

In a comment to Sputnik, Valerie Michaux, the campaigns and communications coordinator of Amnesty International Belgium, reiterated that the watchdog urged the West to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE altogether, recalling about arms trade treaty rules, which the exporting countries commit themselves to.

"We know very well that there is a high risk of diversion of these weapons to armed groups. We remind exporting countries that in view of the international conventions on arms trade that most countries have ratified, a precautionary principle is binding on all states that sell arms: If there is a risk and there are sufficient indications of risks of human rights violations, a state cannot grant weapons licenses for that country," Michaux said.

She stressed that "the management and marketing teams" of weapons manufactures must be vigilant, rather than "simply rely upon Saudi Arabia to tell them that all is fine."

Amnesty International Belgium's Director Philippe Hensmans, in turn, noted that EU arms exporters were breaching not only the UN treaties banning sales to those suspected of rights violations, but also the bloc's analogous code of conduct.

"We know it is not easy to follow it up [supplied arms] on the ground in war zones. We have seen it for example after the Libyan war that 'neutralized' [Muammar] Gaddafi. Libya then became the largest arms supermarket of the planet, selling to many African countries," he told Sputnik.

Hensmans went on to note that the problem of arms diversion was complicated by the fact that most weapons "are very sturdy and can have a lifetime of more than 30 years," posing a threat of their later re-emergence in other conflict zones, as is the case with Kalashnikov or FAL assault rifles.

"A kalashnikov costs only 25 US$ in Africa or the middle East. Bulgaria and other Balkan countries still produce them massively," he noted.

Even such a small country like Belgium has a powerful arms industry, which also benefits from supplies to the Gulf nations, according to Hensmans.

"[Belgium's] FN Herstal produces small arms but a group such as CMI in Liege, Belgium, produces canons and turrets for tanks that are assembled in Canada and then exported to Saudi Arabia. That contract alone is worth 3.6 billion EUR for CMI. Now Saudi Arabia wants to install its own tank-producing factory. Their ambition is to make it one of the 20 largest in the world. Where will these weapons systems end up? There are enough arms all over the world; there is no need for more factories," he stressed.

YEMEN AS MAIN VICTIM OF UNTRACED ARMS SUPPLIES

Dwelling on Yemen, Hensmans reiterated the watchdog's findings that some of Western weapons ended up in hands of UAE-backed militias Security Belt, Shabwani elite forces and "The Giants."

"Minimi, the light machine guns (7.62 mm NATO) designed by Belgian FN Herstal are being used by an armed group in Yemen, known as the Giant Brigades. Minimi light machine guns have been found in the hands of this special forces unit of the Yemeni army, now under nobody's control, but armed & trained by the United Arab Emirates. The country is known to equip militias with war material as part of the conflict in Yemen," he said.

According to Hensmans, Yemen has long become a place dominated by UAE-backed militias, which are largely unaccountable but illegally receive a range of advanced weaponry, with "much of it sourced from Western countries, including the UK or Belgium."

Meanwhile, these are Yemeni people who bear the brunt of the conflict between the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi movement, with the humanitarian situation in the country described as "worst human-made disaster" due to high civilian casualties and famine.

SELLING WEAPONS 'LIKE BAGUETTES OF BREAD'?

The West, however, mainly dismisses accusations of being neglectful in its arms exports.

Back in July, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, for instance, defended the cause of arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, arguing that the country supplied defensive weapons.

"I would like to take this opportunity today to put an end to the fiction that we would sell weapons like baguettes of bread! To my knowledge, land equipment sold to Saudi Arabia are used not for offensive purposes but for defensive purposes on the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The policy of controlling arms sales is strict and based on a case-by-case analysis, as part of the inter-ministerial commission for the export of war materials. The decision-making process is very scrupulous, and it allows us to react at every step, and every moment, according to the international situation," she said, addressing the national defense committee.

Months later, Parly however, conceded after it appeared that French heavy military equipment was used in the Yemen conflict that there were cases when weapons are used not in the way announced.

Gilles Lebreton, a member of the European parliament and of French National Rally (RN) party, told Sputnik that his RN "group is hostile to arms sales to countries that could use them to help Islamist terrorism," and opposes Paris' amicable cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

"There is no doubt that some of the weapons that France and other European states sold to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, have ended up in terrorist or fighter hands, and probably used against our own troops in Syria for example," Lebreton argued.

Speaking about the Yemen crisis, the lawmaker said that only international efforts, with the participation of all major powers concerned" could put an end to "the awful conflict," which killed "a whole generation of children."

Hensmans of Amnesty International, meanwhile, explained that the "government[s] and the companies are very strong" in large countries such as France, Germany or the UK, that is why non-governmental organizations which defend the cause of stopping arms supplies, "are often treated in a patronizing way."

As another example of handling arms exports, he referred to the Wallonia region of Belgium, which hosts the country's largest weapons producer FN Herstal.

"[T]he minister-president of Wallonia, Willy Borsus (MR), reacts quickly to the problems we raise. He admits that there is a lack of transparency in the process of allocating licenses and praises the code of conduct that his Walloon region has adopted in a decree, a copy-paste actually of the European code," Hensmans said.

He however, noted that the composition of a special committee constituted to give advice to the minister-president on the issue is unknown, and added that licenses for exports to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia had been anyway issued by a previous regional government, before the Yemen conflict.

According to Pierre Henrot, a military expert from Brussels, another factor to be taken into account while supplying advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia is the country's poorly-trained armed forces, which he says often open indiscriminate fire.

"The high number of civilians hit in Yemen, can partly be explained by the inefficiency of the Saudi Royal Air Force, whose bombing is very inaccurate, hits civilians and even its own allies on the ground ... "The American advisors are said to be exasperated by the erratic use of ammunitions and negligence by the Saudi armed forces in Yemen. In an incident in 2018, Saudi aircraft bombed two buses packed with civilians including children, fleeing the port-city of Hudaydah, killing 17 people," Henrot told Sputnik.

EUROPE 'CANNOT BRUTALLY CUT ITSELF OFF FROM THIS MARKET'

A former French top civil servant Jean-Paul Baquiast, author and the creator of the website Admiroutes, meanwhile, noted that defense industry certainly could not develop without exporting its production to other countries.

"France is trying to have an autonomous armaments industry that will not depend, as the rest of Europe, on American industry, which of course would have to be paid for in Dollars. It implies sales of arms in the world to friendly governments. Never could a French armaments industry, and the research going with it exist without exporting to foreign countries," Baquiast told Sputnik.

Baquiast, nevertheless, stressed that "buyer countries must be questioned thoroughly on what they intend to do with these weapons."

"Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rich in billions of petro-dollars, have become France's second-largest arms customer, behind India. France cannot brutally cut itself off from this market. I think Germany will not do it either, despite Angela Merkel's decision," he suggested.

To back up his argument, he noted President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, had not sanctioned Saudi Arabia despite the Khashoggi case, while the West, on the whole, had not been tough enough on the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, confining itself to urging the sides to show restraint.

Jamal Khashoggi, known for his criticism of Saudi government policies and practices, went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey's Istanbul on October 2. After weeks of denials, Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi was killed inside the diplomatic mission, but denied suggestions its royal family was involved.

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