Au­thor­ity turns blind eye as SA sells arms to coun­tries sus­pected of Ye­men war crimes

Sunday Times - - Opinion - SURAYA DADOO Dadoo is a re­searcher with the Me­dia Re­view Net­work in Jo­han­nes­burg

ASaudi Ara­bian-led coali­tion has bombed and block­aded Ye­men into famine. In­de­pen­dent es­ti­mates put the to­tal num­ber of Ye­me­nis killed in the cam­paign to re­store for­mer Ye­meni pres­i­dent Abd Rab­buh Mansur Hadi to power at nearly 50,000 since the Saudi-led coali­tion at­tacks be­gan in March 2015. Dev­as­tat­ing airstrikes on hos­pi­tals, schools and mar­kets have not re­turned Hadi to power, but have un­leashed what the UN de­scribes as the world’s worst cur­rent hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

A coali­tion block­ade on Ye­men is starv­ing the coun­try of im­ports of food, medicine and fuel. With­out fuel, wa­ter can­not be pumped from bore­holes. Un­san­i­tary con­di­tions have led to out­breaks of dis­ease, in­clud­ing the worst cholera out­break in mod­ern his­tory. In­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing of hos­pi­tals, and short­ages of med­i­cal sup­plies, have closed half of Ye­men’s health fa­cil­i­ties.

De­spite the hu­man­i­tar­ian de­struc­tion that the war has brought, sev­eral coun­tries — in­clud­ing SA — have been ea­ger to sup­ply Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies with weapons for a cam­paign char­ac­terised by re­peated vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law. These in­clude war crimes, ac­cord­ing to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. South African arms com­pa­nies, while not the pri­mary sup­pli­ers in the con­flict, have also been cash­ing in — be­com­ing com­plicit in se­ri­ous human rights vi­o­la­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the na­tional con­ven­tional arms con­trol com­mit­tee (NCACC), which over­sees SA’s arms ex­ports, SA sold more than R3bn worth of arms and am­mu­ni­tion, ar­moured ve­hi­cles and sur­veil­lance and mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy to the coali­tion’s most ac­tively war­ring mem­bers, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), in 2016 and 2017.

In­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions strate­gist Zeenat Adam re­ports that SA’s state-owned weapons man­u­fac­turer, Denel, sold the UAE at least 1,600 Um­bani guided bombs for Mi­rage jets in 2016. At last year’s Dubai Air­show, the UAE an­nounced that it had or­dered sur­veil­lance drones worth R180m from Denel. Rhein­metall Denel Mu­ni­tion — the South African ven­ture of Ger­man arms gi­ant Rhein­metall — is pre­par­ing ex­ports to the UAE of tens of thou­sands of mor­tar and ar­tillery shells and more than 12,000 bombs.

NCACC pro­to­cols stip­u­late that end users can­not re-ex­port items to an­other coun­try with­out SA’s ex­plicit con­sent — but Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE have been do­ing ex­actly that; South African weapons have turned up in Ye­men’s con­flict for years.

In June 2011 — long be­fore the Saudi coali­tion had of­fi­cially en­tered the Ye­men con­flict — a Reuters pho­to­graph showed Ye­meni sol­diers sit­ting atop a South African Ra­tel ar­moured ve­hi­cle. When asked in par­lia­ment by DA MP David Maynier how the Ra­tels ended up in Ye­men, NCACC boss Jeff Radebe said he did not know. Maynier asked Radebe whether the NCACC was in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tion of the end-user cer­tifi­cate. Radebe said he’d “find out”. Radebe’s “in­ves­ti­ga­tions” were not fruit­ful.

In July 2015, TV footage showed a Denel Dy­nam­ics Seeker II un­manned ae­rial ve­hi­cle be­ing shot down over Ye­men. An iden­ti­fi­ca­tion plate on the UAE-owned drone, stat­ing “Made in South Africa Carl Zeiss Op­tron­ics Pty Ltd”, was clearly vis­i­ble.

The NCACC is turn­ing a blind eye to mount­ing ev­i­dence of Saudi and Emi­rati breaches of its own reg­u­la­tions. In do­ing so, it is vi­o­lat­ing South African and in­ter­na­tional statutes. SA’s Na­tional Con­ven­tional Arms Con­trol Act states that the NCACC must “avoid trans­fers of con­ven­tional arms to gov­ern­ments that sys­tem­at­i­cally vi­o­late or sup­press human rights”. Un­der the UN arms trade treaty — which SA rat­i­fied in 2014 — it has an obli­ga­tion to halt the sup­ply of weapons if these are likely to be used for se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional human rights or hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

The Ye­men Data Pro­ject re­veals that since 2015, nearly a third of coali­tion air raids hit civil­ian sites such as schools and hos­pi­tals. A re­cent UN re­port found that par­ties to the armed con­flict in Ye­men have com­mit­ted a sub­stan­tial num­ber of vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law, many of which may amount to war crimes.

Ger­many and Nor­way have sus­pended ex­ports of weapons to the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia, cit­ing the risk of mis­use in Ye­men. Aus­tria, the Nether­lands and Bel­gium’s Wal­loon re­gional au­thor­ity have de­nied li­cences for arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia for the same rea­son. If these coun­tries have recog­nised the risk of po­ten­tial com­plic­ity in war crimes, why hasn’t SA?

The Saudi-led coali­tion bombed a cholera treat­ment cen­tre in June, though Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders had shared the cen­tre’s co­or­di­nates with it at least 12 times. On Au­gust 9, a bus tak­ing chil­dren on an ex­cur­sion was blown up by the coali­tion, killing 40 chil­dren.

At what point will the NCACC say “enough” and stop arm­ing coun­tries com­mit­ting war crimes in Ye­men?

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