Theater of Cruelty

War crimes with Norwegian ammunition?

The war in Yemen has led to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. All the warring parties are responsible for war crimes, according to the UN. Nevertheless, Norway continues to export arms to the parties.


What consequences has the war in Yemen had for Norwegian arms exports to the countries involved? According to Ny Tid's review of export figures from January 2015 to January 2016, there is little indication that Norway has put in the brakes: Rather, we continue to export weapons to the United Arab Emirates, including large quantities of ammunition. In January 2016 alone, cartridges and materials in the category of bombs, grenades and the like were exported to a value of almost NOK 22 million.

Next to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates is considered the most active country in the coalition that entered the civil war in Yemen in March 2015, and participates with both air and ground forces in several places in the country. In the worst case scenario, Norwegian ammunition and Norwegian weapons can be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.
Nammo is Norway's largest producer of ammunition, and confirms to Ny Tid that the company has exported ammunition to the Emirates. In March 2015, Nammo established a separate office in the country. "The Emirates is a country to which several of Nammo's international subsidiaries have been able to export products. It was therefore natural for us to establish an office there, so that we have a local representative who can coordinate the company's activities against the defense in the Emirates, "says Sissel Solum, communications director at Nammo, to Ny Tid.

Screen Shot at 2016 04-13-14.31.25"Huge disaster."  According to the UN, Yemen is the country in the world with the greatest need for humanitarian aid right now: Of the country's 24 million inhabitants, 21 million have an urgent need for emergency aid. "The war in Yemen is a dirty war where all means are used," says Line Hegna, communications manager at Save the Children to Ny Tid. "The UN has documented that the coalition commits war crimes. They are directly targeting civilian targets in what is a huge bombing of the country, and they are also making it difficult to obtain food and medicine. "

"The war in Yemen is a dirty war where all means are used."

The coalition has, among other things, bombed hospitals supported by MSF. "The scale is extremely severe, and we are particularly concerned because the number of severely malnourished children is increasing," Hegna says. "Children are dying of hunger in Yemen now. The population is starving because the coalition is preventing food and medicines from entering the country, and the little ones that come in are very expensive. By all parameters, this is a huge humanitarian disaster. ”

60 tons of ammunition. How does Nammo ensure that the company's ammunition does not end up in Yemen, Sissel Solum?
"Ammunition sold to the Emirates requires end-user declaration from the national export control authorities, where our products are sold from," Solum responds. "It is the Emirates' defense that buys the products and signs the end-user declaration, which guarantees that the products they import are not subject to further export."
Norwegian companies have exported close to 60 tonnes of cartridges to the Emirates after entering the country in Yemen last year, according to statistics from Statistics Norway. There have also been exports of parts to larger and smaller weapons, and of materials within the category covering bombs, grenades, torpedoes, mines and rockets.
The figures Ny Tid has examined still cover only a small part of the total sales reported in the annual report to the Storting on arms sales from Norway, and the report for 2015 is not expected until the autumn. A review of the latest reports to the Storting shows that exports of weapons from Norway to the Emirates have increased sharply in the last four years. If exports increase at the same pace, we can expect that the value of arms exports in 2015 may have increased to more than NOK 60 million. The aforementioned large exports of cartridges, bombs, grenades and similar material only in January this year, do not point exactly in the direction that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tightened.
Hegna believes the continued export of military equipment to the Emirates is sensational.
"When Norway has the knowledge we have about the situation in Yemen and the Emirates' participation in the war, it is very startling that Norway continues to sell weapons. The government must assure the Norwegian people that Norwegian weapons are not used to kill children in Yemen, and when we see that exports have continued after the coalition entered the country, it becomes even more important that Norway actually goes out and can prove that these the weapons are not used there. ”
Mads Harlem, head of the international law section of the Red Cross, is also critical of the export of weapons to the Emirates. "This is highly problematic and very serious," Harlem told Ny Tid about the figures from Statistics Norway. "The question is whether this equipment that has gone from Norway to the Emirates may have been used in Yemen. There, I believe that the burden of proof lies with the Norwegian export control authorities. They have a significant responsibility when they know that the Emirates are participating in Yemen, and they know what is happening there. Norwegian bullets have nothing to do with the conflict in Yemen. "

According to Harlem, an end-user declaration is not necessarily enough to prevent Norwegian ammunition being used to commit war crimes in Yemen. "The end-user statement is usually about ensuring that the equipment is not re-exported to another country," Harlem explains. "An end-user declaration is thus not enough for Norway to be relieved of responsibility if the Emirates uses the munitions for war crimes in Yemen, as this will not be further export."

"The coalition is aiming directly at civilian targets in what is a massive bombing of the country, and they are also making it difficult to obtain food and medicine."

YEMEN-CONFLICTThe rules are too bad. Several countries are now beginning to move towards an arms embargo on the countries participating in the war in Yemen. The European Parliament has asked the member states to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, and the Dutch parliament has adopted a arms embargo in the country. Amnesty International goes a step further, asking for a full halt in all arms exports to all parties in the war. Save the Children in Norway supports this requirement: "Save the Children requires full stop in the export of military equipment, both A and B material," says Line Hegna. "FRP's Christian Tybring-Gjedde has said that all military material is made to kill. We fully agree with that, and so Norway must stop all sales of military equipment to the countries involved. ”
The Red Cross believes that the existing regulations for export control of Norwegian weapons are too poor: "In Norway we do not have clear prohibition provisions on the export of weapons or military equipment to countries that use this in wars or conflicts where war crimes are committed," explains Mads Harlem. «Norway has signed the agreement regulating international arms exports, the Arms Trade Treaty, which requires that no arms be exported to countries where this can be used to commit either war crimes or serious human rights violations. What we are asking is how these prohibition provisions are implemented in Norwegian legislation. As the legislation is today, it is up to the UD's discretion to decide when export can be allowed. The fact that it is largely up to the bureaucrats is also problematic in terms of corruption. ”

No good answers. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Emirates has been approved by the ministry as a recipient of Norwegian weapons. The coalition's military intervention in Yemen is considered a legitimate defense operation to reinstate the country's internationally recognized president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, after the Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sana'a in February last year. For Save the Children, the formal legitimacy of the war has little to say. "It is against international law to go against civilians to the extent they do now," says Hegna. "Even in what is a formally legitimate war, war crimes can be committed, and Norway will then be responsible if it turns out that we have contributed military equipment in such a situation."
Mads Harlem from the Red Cross agrees: “In Yemen, widespread violations of international human rights are committed by all parties. One must then ask to what extent Norwegian export authorities have ensured that these exports will not be used to commit war crimes. To my knowledge, there are no good answers to this. For example, it is possible to set terms in the contracts that the equipment should not be used in Yemen. It should also be required to inspect that this is not actually happening. I expect this to be done by the authorities since it is an international law obligation for Norway, ”says Harlem.

The parliament can put down its foot. The Storting Report, which reports on Norwegian arms exports in 2014, will be processed in the Storting at the end of April. In the Foreign and Defense Committee's recommendation, all parties except the government parties have asked the Government to explain the consequences of the war in Yemen for Norwegian exports to the countries involved in the next parliamentary report. There are also several proposals to the Storting to incorporate the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty into Norwegian law and to introduce random checks to ensure compliance with end-user statements.
For Save the Children, however, this is a matter of urgency. “The processing of the parliamentary reports takes time. The children in Yemen do not have this time, so we ask that the Government take action immediately. They should immediately get on track and stop all sales of military equipment and weapons, and they must stop and hide behind technical explanations that this is okay, ”says Line Hegna.
Mads Harlem also believes that the situation is starting to become unsustainable: “To me it seems that the risk that Norwegian equipment can be used to commit war crimes in Yemen is too high. Therefore, I can only understand that they have to go in and get the arms exports to the Emirates stopped. You cannot live with the current situation, with all the reports that are available and everything that we know is going on inside Yemen. Here, I believe that Norway has an indirect responsibility for civilians who are killed if Norwegian ammunition is used, ”says Harlem.

Approved by the government. Frode Overland Andersen, Head of Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informs Ny Tid that the United Arab Emirates has been approved by the ministry as a recipient of Norwegian weapons. «All applications for export of defense equipment are thoroughly assessed in accordance with the guidelines. This also applies to exports to the Emirates, "says Andersen. According to Andersen, it is not obvious that restrictions on the sale of weapons to countries in civil war also apply to other states involved. "Norway's self-imposed restrictions through the 1959 decision mean that we do not sell weapons and ammunition to the parties in a civil war. The practice has been that intervening states that participate in legitimate defense operations in other countries are not considered covered by the 1959 decision, "Andersen explains. The Ministry does not appear to have changed its assessment of the Emirates as a recipient of Norwegian weapons as a result of the war in Yemen. "We have an ongoing assessment of which countries are open for the export of weapons and ammunition, ie so-called A-materiel. If the situation in a country to which we export changes significantly so that the conditions for allowing the sale of weapons and ammunition are no longer present, the Government will consider whether it should still be possible to grant a license, "says Andersen.


See related case here

Tori Aarseth
Tori Aarseth
Aarseth is a political scientist and a regular journalist at Ny Tid.

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