Thursday, February 22, 2018

Is Sweden complicit in war crimes in Yemen?

People stand at the site of a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, on November 2017. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

*Despite Sweden leading a few special UN sessions in response to the acute humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it still has not demonstrated a political appetite to stop its arms sales to the most active warring parties in the Yemen war: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Swedish parliament is due to discuss its governmental policies on Swedish arms exports, on the 28th of February – and anti-militarization Swedish groups are demanding that Sweden halts all its arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In the course of the ongoing war in Yemen human rights groups have documented serious attacks committed by both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis against civilian sites. These attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes. While the Houthis grew their military power ever since they overtook Sana’a on September 2014, with the support of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi-led coalition’s military activities in Yemen were only possible because of their weapon supplies from several western countries - including Sweden.

The Yemen Data Project reveals that since 2015, nearly one-third of Saudi air raids hit non-military sites; such as schools, hospitals, weddings, funerals among many other civilian targets. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both documented dozens of unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes. And yet, Sweden has not taken any steps to, at least, investigate how its weapons might be used in violating the international humanitarian law and hence continues risking its complicity in these war crimes.

Sweden is among the world's top 30th biggest arms producers and both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are some of its main customers. According to the Swedish prominent 135-years-old anti-militarization group, Svenska Freds, the Swedish arms trade to Saudi Arabia has been ongoing since 1998; with a quick suspension in 2015 following a brief diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The greater amount of the trade has occurred in the last seven years. Between 2010 and 2016, the arms sales to Saudi Arabia was worth almost 6 billion Swedish kronor.

Additionally, the United Arab Emirates was able to buy Swedish weapons in 2016 after the Swedish administrative authority, National Inspectorate of Strategic Products (Inspektionen för strategiska produkter) granted a permission for arms trade to the United Arab Emirates for an amount of nearly 11 billion Swedish kronor, which is one of the largest grants of all time.

Prior to that deal, between 2010 and 2016, Sweden exported arms to the UAE worth 2,12 billion kronor. Saab Group (the Swedish aerospace and defence company) recently opened its office in the capital Abu Dhabi end of 2017 – a clear sign of Sweden’s desire to expand its activities in the region.

The Swedish foreign minister, Margot Walltröm has faced criticism at the Swedish parliament in late 2016 by Sweden’s Left Party, over Sweden’s role in peace-building and arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. During that hearing, questions were raised about Sweden’s role in investigating committed war crimes and what initiatives the minister intended to take to introduce a national arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.

In response to these questions, the Swedish government has been working on presenting a proposal to tighten arms exports that could come into effect as a law in April of this year. However, this proposition does not deliver an absolute prohibition on arms trade to countries involved in armed conflict with possible war crimes committed.

As both a Swedish-Yemeni citizen and an awardee of Svenska Freds’ Eldh-Ekblads Peace Prize for 2017, I take Sweden’s role in the war in Yemen very seriously. At the end of 2016, I urged Sweden to suspend its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and today I urge them again to do so. In the coming Swedish parliament debate on the arms exports, Svenska Freds group plans to demonstrate in front of the parliament to demand a halt on all arms trade related to the war in Yemen. And I raise that demand as well.

The ongoing war in Yemen has produced the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II and has the potential to get worse. A Recently published UN report shows how throughout 2017 alone there have been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties involved in the conflict. Both Norway and Finland have reviewed or suspended their arms trade with members of the Saudi-led coalition. Sweden should do the same. Sweden has long stood for peace and conflict resolution and it should use its efforts to help find a solution, not add fuel to a burning fire.