Amnesty And Human Rights Watch Call On Australia To Stop Selling Arms To Saudi Arabia

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The latest from Michael Brull in his ongoing series on the war on Yemen.

The Australian branches of two of the world’s leading human rights organisations have exclusively released to New Matilda statements opposing Australian arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have urged Australia to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Australia Director of HRW Elaine Pearson said, “Australia should suspend the sale of any military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Australia should in fact impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Saudi Arabia until Saudi Arabia not only curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen but also credibly investigates alleged violations.”

Diana Sayed, the crisis campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, said “Australia must cease the authorisation of any future arms transfers while there remains a substantial risk these arms will be used to fuel human rights abuses. Australia must not be complicit in enabling the abuse and the deliberate targeting of civilians.”

 

Calls for Australia to disclose military exports to Saudi Arabia

Amnesty and HRW called for the Australian government to disclose its military exports to Saudi Arabia. Dina Sayed from Amnesty said, “Amnesty International urges Australia to publicly report the exact nature of all arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Pearson from HRW said, “Australia should come clean about the equipment that is being supplied to the Saudi Arabia government, and how it will be used.”

Amnesty declined to comment on arms sales to other countries that are involved in the war in Yemen, such as the United Arab Emirates. Pearson said that, “Australian officials should carefully consider whether any weapons it sells to coalition members will be used in Yemen in unlawful attacks.”

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Human Rights Watch has previously observed that “Saudi Arabia has been the leader of the coalition, with targeting decisions made in the Saudi Defense Ministry in Riyadh.”

On April 13, Human Rights Watch wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. They urged the government “to suspend the sale or transfer of any weapons or material to Saudi Arabia until it curtails its unlawful attacks in Yemen and credibly investigates past alleged violations of the laws of war”.

 

The blockade

I asked the three organisations about the blockade on Yemen. Amnesty declined to comment. Human Rights Watch said, “The Saudi-led coalition has imposed a blockade on Yemen since they began their military campaign two years ago – at times rerouting ships on their way to Yemen’s main port, including delaying shipments of life-saving medicines up to three months.

“The coalition has a right to impose a blockade under the laws of war, but it should make sure it is facilitating the entry and delivery of humanitarian aid intended for civilian use – not impeding it.

Sana'a backstreet (Yemen)  (IMAGE: Ahron de Leeuw, Flickr)
Sana’a backstreet (Yemen)
(IMAGE: Ahron de Leeuw, Flickr)

“Both parties to the conflict have impeded, delayed and restricted the entry and movement of humanitarian aid. Given large swatches of Yemen are on the brink of famine, this is entirely unacceptable.”

Before the war on Yemen, it imported 90 percent of its food. The war has left the country devastated, and most of the population faces a humanitarian crisis. On April 12, the United Nations issued another appeal, warning that millions are on the “brink of famine”. It warned that, “We are in a race against time to save lives and prevent a full-scale famine unfolding in the country”. A World Food Program representative warned that ““The situation is getting close to a breaking point in Yemen with unprecedented levels of hunger and food insecurity. Millions of people can no longer survive without urgent food assistance”. 6.7 million people require “urgent food assistance”.

Coalition MP Christopher Pyne has pushed to increase military exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are part of the coalition that have invaded and blockaded Yemen. The ALP doesn’t take a position on the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, the invasion of Yemen, or the blockade. A media adviser for Senator Penny Wong informed New Matilda that the ALP is “deeply concerned by the conflict”.

 

Amnesty media release

Amnesty International Australia is deeply concerned by reports that arms transfers have been authorised by Australia to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although the full extent of the deal has not been made public, a Senate motion passed last week required Defence Minister Marise Payne to table details of approvals for military exports to Saudi Arabia since January 2016.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne also visited Riyadh in December 2016 to meet with senior government figures.

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“If Australia has indeed been authorising the sale of conventional weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia there is a serious risk these weapons could be used in the commission of human rights abuses and potential war crimes, particularly in Yemen,” said Diana Sayed, crisis campaigner at Amnesty International Australia.

“Australia is obliged under the Arms Trade Treaty not to authorise weapons transfers to countries where there is an overriding risk these weapons could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. By transferring conventional arms to Saudi Arabia, Australia may indeed be in breach of the Arms Trade Treaty. The fact that the exact nature of these weapons transfers has been kept from the public is unacceptable.”

An airstrike in Saana, Yemen. (IMAGE: Ibrahem Qasim, Flickr)
An airstrike in Saana, Yemen. (IMAGE: Ibrahem Qasim, Flickr)

Saudi Arabia has committed gross and systematic violations of human rights in Yemen. Saudi Arabia leads the military coalition fighting in Yemen, with Riyadh hosting its command control structure. Since 26 March 2015, the coalition has carried out numerous attacks that have violated international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that have killed and injured many civilians. It has repeatedly used internationally banned cluster munitions, including in civilian populated areas. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia is using weapons sourced from outside the Kingdom to fuel these abuses.

“Australia held itself up as a leader in the successful negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty – and basked in the glory when the Treaty came into force. As a global arms control leader it is deeply concerning that Australia would facilitate and promote arms exports to Saudi Arabia while the country is committing shocking abuses,” said Diana Sayed.

“Amnesty International urges Australia to publicly report the exact nature of all arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Australia must cease the authorisation of any future arms transfers while there remains a substantial risk these arms will be used to fuel human rights abuses. Australia must not be complicit in enabling the abuse and the deliberate targeting of civilians.”

 

Human Rights Watch media release: Arms sales to Saudi Arabia

“Australia should suspend the sale of any military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Australia should in fact impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Saudi Arabia until Saudi Arabia not only curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen but also credibly investigates alleged violations. Australia should come clean about the equipment that is being supplied to the Saudi Arabia government, and how it will be used. If Australia moves forward in selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia, a known violator in the Yemen conflict that has done little to curtail its abuses, Australia risks being complicit in unlawful civilian deaths. Instead the Australian government should use its leverage with the Saudi government to press Saudi Arabia to comply with international humanitarian law and take steps to mitigate civilian casualties.”

 

On the blockade:

Yemen is one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. Both parties to the conflict have impeded, delayed and restricted the entry and movement of humanitarian aid. Given large swatches of Yemen are on the brink of famine, this is entirely unacceptable. The Saudi-led coalition has imposed a blockade on Yemen since they began their military campaign two years ago – at times rerouting ships on their way to Yemen’s main port, including delaying shipments of life-saving medicines up to three months. The coalition has a right to impose a blockade under the laws of war, but it should make sure it is facilitating the entry and delivery of humanitarian aid intended for civilian use – not impeding it.

 

Arms sales to the United Arab Emirates

“Australian officials should carefully consider whether any weapons it sells to coalition members will be used in Yemen in unlawful attacks.”

Elaine Pearson – Australia Director, Human Rights Watch

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelBrullWritings/

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