War, famine, and pandemic in Yemen but business as usual for Canadian arms exports

Today’s blog post features the full text of the Press Release issued in conjunction with the 14 May Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Civil Society Organizations Decry Global Affairs Canada Justifications for Resumption of Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia

15 May 2020

Today, in an Open Letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a coalition of Canadian civil society organizations expressed deep concern regarding the analysis contained in the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) document Final Report: Review of export permits to Saudi Arabia. The government document was published in April following the announcement that the moratorium on approving new permits for military exports to Saudi Arabia would be lifted.

In the view of the civil society coalition, the government’s analysis is unsatisfactory and demonstrates a weak commitment to Canada’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). They also expressed concern that the Final Report contains an insufficiently robust analysis with regards to the undermining of peace and security, international humanitarian and international human rights law, gender-based violence, the “substantial risk” test and diversion.

As part of its commitments under the ATT, Canada is required to assess weapons exports in order to determine if there is a risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or international human rights law, and is prohibited from exporting where there is a “substantial risk” that such exports would undermine peace and security.

In the report, the government clarifies its operating definition of what constitutes a “substantial risk”. Unfortunately, the government analysis seeks evidence of repetitive misuse of exported weapons, rather than evidence of risk of misuse.

This approach, which waits for violations to take place before they are considered as part of the risk analysis, undermines the ATT’s purpose of reducing human suffering through prevention” said Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares.

Despite a substantial record affirming that Saudi Arabia has committed serious violations of IHL in Yemen, and its abysmal human rights record domestically, GAC has concluded that the types of weapons that Canada exports are not cause for concern. Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada, said:

It seems that the Government of Canada will not be satisfied that a substantial risk exists until there is proof that Canadian-made Light Armoured Vehicles or sniper rifles are directly and repeatedly used in the commission of international human rights or international humanitarian law violations. Canada is taking a narrow, cynical approach that is inconsistent with the ATT’s purpose.

Another troubling affirmation of the Final Report is that it:

…found no credible evidence linking Canadian-made military goods or technology to gender-based violence (GBV) by [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] KSA personnel in relation to the conflict in Yemen and no evidence of repeated use of such equipment for such acts.

Anne Duhamel, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam Quebec, commented:

It is troubling to note that the government ignored documented evidence of armoured vehicles used to attack a maternity hospital in Hodeidah in a conflict where rape and other GBV are rife. Yet GAC made no apparent effort in the Report to determine the risk of Saudi forces engaging in similar acts.

She added:

If Canada wants to be consistent with its Feminist Foreign Aid Policy and its forthcoming Feminist Foreign Policy, it must ensure that GBV is systematically and thoroughly considered in its arms export assessments.

The report [further] states that:

…overall, Canadian exports of military goods and technology to [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] contribute to regional peace and security.

Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason commented:

This astounding conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the findings of the August – September 2019 UN Eminent Expert Report on Yemen that ‘the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.’ The observation of the UN Expert Group is a statement of the blindingly obvious to anyone even cursorily following the horrific Yemeni conflict. It also makes absolutely clear that all military exports to all parties to the conflict are the problem, not some exports to some parties.

Mason added:

The government of Canada cannot have it both ways – signing up countries in support of the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, while at the same time impeding that goal by continuing to arm one side of the deadly Yemeni conflict.

The signatories to the Open Letter are: Amnesty International Canada (English branch), Amnistie internationale Canada francophone, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Project Ploughshares, and the Rideau Institute. The Open Letter can be found here:  Open Letter – Saudi Arms Final Report.

(end of text of Press Release)

Saudi diversion of Canadian arms exports

A further important issue addressed in the Open Letter is that of diversion. The relevant section reads:

As a state party to the ATT, Canada is obligated to assess the risk of diversion through its national control system. The substantial risk test is the instrument used by Canadian officials to determine the likelihood exports may be misused and, in turn, establishes eligibility for authorization. Excluding diversion from the substantial risk test is a significant oversight that must be remedied.

This glaring omission is especially troubling considering Saudi Arabia’s persistent track record of diverting weapons from its suppliers, including Canada. Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, there remains persuasive and growing evidence that Canadian weapons have been diverted for illicit end-use and to illicit end-users in the war in Yemen. This includes images of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles reportedly used within Yemen’s borders, and PGW Defence Technologies sniper rifles brandished by Yemeni forces and allied militias. Unless Canada includes diversion under its risk assessment protocol – as is obligated under the ATT – the Minister will not have all the information he is required by law to consider before approving a permit.

For Steven Chase’s Globe and Mail article on the coalition Open Letter, see: Human rights advocates urge Trudeau to reverse decision on resuming approval of permits for arms exports to Saudi Arabia (Steven Chase, globeandmail.com 15 May 2020; paywalled).

Update on dire situation in Yemen

With a COVID-19 pandemic threatening the already fragile country, the UN’s acting Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, presented a bleak humanitarian outlook to the UN Security Council on 14 May, including a threefold increase in attacks on health facilities in the first quarter of May and donor funding cuts leading to the forced closure of therapeutic feeding centres that treat the most severely malnourished children.

“Amidst a pandemic, this is shocking”, said the OCHA deputy chief, adding that preventing disease and feeding sick children are the kinds of programmes [that] should be “protected at all costs”.

In the same briefing, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, emphasized that the UN has provided “a feasible roadmap” that puts the onus on “those with arms and power” to achieve it. This brings us right back to the role of Canada and the small number of other states still providing arms to Saudi Arabia, leader of a coalition fighting in Yemen that has been repeatedly accused of committing war crimes.

See also: ‘People are very afraid’: Yemen faces spectre of coronavirus amid aid cuts (Bethan McKernan, theguardian.com, 13 May 2020).

Majority of western allies restrict arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but Canada does not

As of 15 May 2020, eleven of Canada’s western allies have total bans or restrictive measures in place regarding arms exports to Saudi Arabia. This list would also include the USA had President Trump not vetoed several Congressional measures to this effect. These countries are:

Total ban: Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, Finland, Germany (just recently extended again), Greece, Netherlands (including transit and transhipment bans), Norway, and UK (Court ordered).

Restrictive measures: Austria, Belgium (Wallonia) (including a specific ban on gun turrets for armoured vehicles because these are being used in Yemen; Belgium provides gun turrets for Canadian LAVs exported to Saudi Arabia); Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Whither Canada?

Canada’s  Final Report on Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia does not deny the dire human rights situation within Saudi Arabia nor the manifold Saudi human rights abuses in Yemen. But Global Affairs argues that only “older” LAVs are in use in the Yemen conflict and, in any event, they are a “stabilizing” influence, with no evidence of their use in perpetrating serious violations of international humanitarian law.

As noted earlier, these findings fly in the face of findings by UN experts, the evidence compiled by Canadian and other civil society organizations working on the ground in Yemen and the actions of most of Canada’s western allies.

We call on the Government of Canada to forthwith end Canada’s unspeakable complicity in the suffering of the Yemeni people by ceasing the export of Canadian-made armoured vehicles and related equipment to Saudi Arabia.

Photo credit: Ceasefire.ca (created image of Cdn and ICC flags being crushed)

Tags: "substantial risk" criteria, 2019 UN Expert Report on Yemen, Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), August - September 2019 UN Eminent Expert Report on Yemen, Canadian CSO coalition against LAV exports to Saudi Arabia, Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs), diversion, Final Report: Review of export permits to Saudi Arabia, gender based violence (GBV), global ceasefire, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), negative impact on peace and security, PGW Defence Technologies sniper rifles, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, UN’s acting Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ramesh Rajasingham