Norway’s chapter of the humanitarian organization Save the Children (Redd Barna) called again on Wednesday for a probe of arms and ammunition exports to the United Arab Emirates. The call came after Norway’s foreign ministry confirmed that such exports were suspended a week before the Christmas holidays.
“That’s a good beginning,” Line Hegna of Redd Barna told Norwegian Broadcasting. “It’s of course good that weapon sales have been stopped, but I’d rather say it’s about time.”
The export suspension comes after months of concerns that weapons sold to customers in the Emirates are being used in the ongoing civil war in Yemen. The Socialist Left party (SV) had also called for a ban and a probe. Redd Barna claimed in November 2016 that Norwegian weapons sales could be used against children in Yemen who already were starving because of the war. “Norway contributes with great probability to war crimes against children,” the organization stated, claiming that 1.3 million children in Yemen were suffering from acute malnutrition.
Suspension came after ‘an overall evaluation’
Norway’s foreign ministry finally responded on Wednesday, disclosing a decision made December 19 to suspend export licenses. “After an overall evaluation of the situation in Yemen and of the expanding risk tied to the United Arab Emirates’ military engagement in Yemen, the ministry decided to suspend valid licenses for A-material (weapons and ammunition) to the United Arab Emirates,” the ministry stated in a press release. “New export licenses of A-material to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will, in this situation, not be granted.”
The ministry stressed that it has no information that Norwegian ammunition has been used in Yemen. “Norway has generally very strict regulations and guidelines for exports of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide stated in the prepared announcement. Eriksen noted that sales of weapons and ammunition to the UAE had been allowed since 2010 but not to Saudi Arabia, which is also involved in the war in Yemen.
The ministry described recent developments in what it called the “armed conflict” in Yemen as “serious,” though, and prompting “great concern for the humanitarian situation.” International media have often described it as “the forgotten war,” overshadowed for years by the civil war in Syria and myriad other conflicts in the Middle East.
Norway’s foreign ministry claimed it had been following the situation in Yemen “closely,” though, and making individual evaluations of various applications for export licenses, “especially given the risk for use of Norwegian defense material in Yemen and violations of humanitarian rights.” In addition to the suspension of export licenses for weapons and ammunition, the ministry said the threshold for rejecting export licenses for so-called “B material” (other equipment used for military purposes) would be lowered as well.
Redd Barna, deeply concerned about how children and other civilians are suffering during the war, had long asked that all sales of military equipment to all those involved in the war in Yemen be stopped. “We have indications that war crimes are being committed in Yemen, and we have asked for assurances from the (Norwegian) government that Norwegian material is not being used in this war,” Hegna told NRK.
“So far, the government has said they don’t have indications of that, but now there’s information that indicates the opposite,” Hegna said, referring to a report in newspaper VG and other international media that equipment from state-owned Kongsberg Gruppen has been found in the sea off Yemen. Pictures and video of underwater equipment bearing the Kongsberg logo and that of its wholly owned subsidiary Hydroid could be seen in the pictures. Hydroid produces a minisub known as a Remus 600.
VG was unable, however, to verify either the photos or the video. Kongsberg Gruppen declined to comment on the video or the photos, according to VG.
Frode Andersen, communications chief for the foreign ministry, repeated to NRK that “we have no information that Norwegian defense material has been used in Yemen, or what kind of vessel (the minisub) this is.” Andersen said he couldn’t comment on whether Redd Barna’s call for an investigation will be heeded and put into motion. He said that would need to be handled by a committee in Parliament, and that politicians would need to respond.