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Norway lends billions to dictatorships

Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates bomb hospitals, schools and refugee camps in Yemen – and receive loans from Norway. 

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

Is it right that Norway and the state should make money by giving loans to dictatorial regimes that stockpile weapons and systematically persecute, imprison, torture and kill people they dislike? It is relatively little known and debated in the media, but a review Ny Tid has done shows that Norwegian citizens' pensions today are secured by interest income from loans given to countries that execute and chemically castrate gays, or carry out mass death sentences against political opponents.
The parliamentary representative and deputy leader of SV Snorre Valen believes that the Norwegian loans to these states help strengthen the regimes' ability to suppress and to sit in power. "Norwegian loans to other countries help fund abuses, illegitimate use of money and, in the worst case, help fund illegal warfare," says Valen, referring to the ongoing war in Yemen.

Journalists and photographers who have covered demonstrations in the country have been shot in the head.

No ethical restrictions. There are strict ethical guidelines and regulations for which companies the Government Pension Fund (the Norwegian Oil Fund) can invest. But there are no ethical guidelines that limit which states the Norwegian Oil Fund and the Norwegian state can lend money to. Around NOK 1300 billion – 25 per cent of the Norwegian Petroleum Fund – is currently invested precisely in loans to other states via government bonds. These loans last for an agreed period. Lenders gain from this through interest income on the loans. Interest rates can be, for example, three to seven percent.
Borrowing governments can spend the money exactly as they want, without giving the lender neither access to nor opportunities to limit their use. The loans are repaid after the agreed time – usually three, five or ten years. The only restriction the Oil Fund has today is that they cannot lend to the governments of North Korea and Syria.

Billions for dictatorships. Ny Tid has previously written that Norway has sold military equipment and ammunition to dictatorships in the Middle East for more than one billion kroner in the last ten years. At the same time as Norway has sold military equipment to these dictatorships, the Norwegian state has also lent money to the countries. Ny Tid's review of the Petroleum Fund's investments shows that the Norwegian state has lent NOK 1,3 billion to the dictatorships of Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. All these countries have bought military equipment and / or ammunition from Norway at the same time as they have borrowed money from the Petroleum Fund. The Petroleum Fund's lending to these three countries started in 2011, according to Norges Bank Investment Management's overview of holdings. The latest figures in the overview are from 2014. Norway has lent NOK 607 million to Qatar, NOK 526 million to the United Arab Emirates and NOK 195 million to Egypt.

NORWAY'S DANCE WITH DICTATORS: Changemaker is critical to Norway borrowing money and selling military material to dictators. They marked this with a campaign in which a military dictator danced with Norway and the Storting. PHOTO: Øystein Windstad
NORWAY'S DANCE WITH DICTATORS: Changemaker is critical to Norway borrowing money and selling military material to dictators. They marked this with a campaign in which a military dictator danced with Norway and the Storting. PHOTO: Øystein Windstad

Hamster weapons. The Emirates and Qatar, together with Saudi Arabia, have a leading role in the air and ground war in Yemen. In the same period that Norway has lent over NOK 500 million to the Emirates, the Gulf state has hoarded weapons and increased its spending on the military. The Emirates, which has a population of around five million, was the world's fourth largest arms importer in 2014, according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Over the past five years, the Emirates has spent an average of about 25 percent of the state's weapons and military revenues annually. In 2014, they spent $ 22 billion, according to SIPRI. In a ranking from Freedom House, the Emirates is ranked among the worst in the world. The rating measures political freedom, organizational freedom and freedom of speech. Emirates scores a total of six out of seven, with one being the best and seven being the worst. Persecution of opposites, gagging of free speech and punishment for homosexuality by hanging or chemical castration are among the things that make the Emirates come out so poorly.

Tortures and kills opponents. Both Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are criticized by organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International for actively suppressing their own population. None of these states score better than 5,5 in Freedom House's seven-step ranking, and all are categorized as unfree.

At the same time that Sisi took bloody and brutal control of Egypt, Norway increased its loans to him and his government from NOK 165 million in 2013 to NOK 195 million in 2014.

Since 2013, Egypt in particular has excelled in human rights violations. In the summer of 2013, Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, seized power through a military coup, ousting democratically elected President Mohammed Mursi. On August 14, 2013, he cracked down on the demonstrations against the military coup, killing around 1200 protesters in one day. After Sisi seized power and was later elected president in a rigged election, he has imprisoned more than 41 pro-democracy protesters, according to a report by the human rights organization Reprieve. Journalists and photographers who have covered demonstrations in the country have been shot in the head. The general has also arranged mass court cases against political opponents – for example, over 000 people have been sentenced to death in a mass court case where all defendants together had three hours to defend themselves.
At the same time that Sisi bloody and brutally seized power in Egypt, Norway increased its lending to him and his government from NOK 165 million in 2013 to NOK 195 million in 2014. Both Qatar and the Emirates sent bloody troops to defeat demonstrations for democracy in the small Arab island state of Bahrain in 2011. Under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, governments in Qatar, Jordan, the Emirates and Egypt have now unleashed their war machine in Yemen.

Uses class bombs. Since March, these four countries have participated in a massive bombing and ground invasion of Yemen. According to the UN, this war cost around 3000 civilian lives in 2015. Several civilians were killed, among other things when aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition bombed MSF four times in less than three months, most recently in January 2016. These are hospitals that have provided GPS coordinates to the coalition of where they are. In addition, in March 2015, the coalition bombed a UN camp for those who have fled the war. Here 45 civilians died, most of them children, women and the elderly. In 2015 it has been documented by HRW, among others, that the coalition has also carried out extensive attacks with cluster bombs: “There has been a massive bombing of cluster bombs in several parts of Yemen. These bombs have been used several times against residential areas where only civilians live. The use of cluster bombs against densely populated areas suggests a deliberate attempt to strike civilians. These are serious war crimes, "said Stephen D. Goose, HRW's director of weapons. He adds: "Many of these bombs do not detonate and remain so that the areas become uninhabitable."
Around 80 per cent of Yemen's population of 25 million is now dependent on emergency aid due to the acute shortage of food, water and medicines.

Behind goals of Norway. The organization Changemaker has worked for several years to introduce ethical guidelines for government bonds and government lending. Leader Hanne Sofie Lindahl believes the Oil Fund's investments help dictators prevent democratic development: “Many dictatorships in the Middle East spend over 50 percent of their budgets on the military rather than spending it on social benefits such as health care, school and infrastructure. When Norway exports military equipment to these dictatorships and invests in government bonds from these countries, we help strengthen the dictators' military capacity and capacity for repression. The goal is that there are no ethical guidelines for government bonds, ”says the Changemaker leader.

HRW asks questions. Snorre Valen is very critical of the Norwegian dictator loans. He gets support from HRW, who questions that Norwegian politicians allow the practice.

"The Oil Fund must conduct thorough investigations to ensure that Norway's investments do not contribute to or aggravate human rights issues," said Arvind Ganesan in Human Rights Watch. "In addition, they must clarify what they are doing and how they are working to prevent the Fund's investments in contributing to or exacerbating human rights violations."

Suggested solution. Five parties to the Storting want an investigation to find a solution to the problem of Norway's money lending to repressive regimes: the SV, the Left, the KrF, the MDG and the Center Party have advocated ethical guidelines for government bonds. The organizations Changemaker and Deletion of the National Debt – Fair Debt Policy Network (SLUG) have been the drivers of such regulations. In 2012, SLUG launched the analysis and report «Ethical deficit» on how to establish a regulatory framework for government bonds that ensures that Norwegian money does not go to repression or warfare. The idea is that countries should be assessed and measured on the basis of their economic, legal, political and freedom of expression. The initiative of the Storting from the SV, the Left, the KrF, the MDG and the Center Party is based on criteria for the degree to which the nation's citizens have the opportunity to gain insight into and to express opinions on how the borrowed money should be used.
In addition to the four belligerent dictatorships Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Oil Fund lends money to several other countries that have been criticized for gross human rights violations. The list of states borrowing money from Norway includes China, Turkey and Israel. In addition, Norway lends money to Russia, at the same time as the Solberg government has imposed sanctions on the country due to the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

See also case: Ethical guidelines for Norwegian lending can mean trouble for the Norwegian Oil Fund.

Øystein Windstad
Former journalist at Ny Tid.

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