News compilation by New Cold War.org, March 25, 2016. Four news articles are enclosed, plus related reading.
Saudi Arabia campaign leaves 80% of Yemen population needing aid
Peace talks give Saudis way out as conflict fails to combat terrorism and puts an already impoverished country on the brink
It is difficult to view Saudi Arabia’s relentless war of attrition in Yemen as anything other than a destructive failure. The military intervention that began one year ago has killed an estimated 6,400 people, half of them civilians, injured 30,000 more and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN. Eighty per cent of the population, about 20 million people, are now in need of some form of aid.
The Saudis’ principal aim – to restore Yemen’s deposed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi – has not been achieved. If they hoped to contain spreading Iranian regional influence, that has not worked, either. If the U.S.-backed coalition’s campaign was intended to combat terrorism, that too has flopped. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in particular, and Islamic State (Isis) have profited from the continuing anarchy.
The conflict pits Aden-based Hadi government forces and their Sunni Arab allies against Houthi Shia militias, backed by Tehran, who control the capital, Sana’a, and much of central and northern Yemen. Already one of the world’s poorest countries before fighting escalated last year, Yemen now faces widespread famine. Food shortages are being exacerbated by a growing bank and credit crisis, Oxfam warned this week.
“The destruction of farms and markets, a de facto blockade on commercial imports, and a long-running fuel crisis have caused a drop in agricultural production, a scarcity of supplies and exorbitant food prices,” Oxfam said. Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam’s country director, said: “A brutal conflict on top of an existing crisis … has created one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies in the world today – yet most people are unaware of it. Close to 14.4 million people are hungry and the majority will not be able to withstand the rising prices.”
The UN’s 2016 appeal for donor cash has largely fallen on deaf ears. Belatedly responding to international criticism, including pressure for UK and EU arms embargoes, the Saudi government has agreed to scale back military operations pending renewed peace talks. The announcement followed a horrific airstrike on a market in Houthi-controlled Hajja province on 15 March that killed 119 people, including many children.
The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, pointed the finger directly at Riyadh. “Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” he said. Markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties, and hundreds of private residences had been hit, Zeid said.
The Saudis’ agreement to re-enter UN-mediated peace talks in Kuwait following a proposed April 10 ceasefire looks like an admission that continued military attrition is no solution and is making matters worse. The Houthis are far from defeated, while Iran recently signalled willingness to step up direct involvement, as in Syria.
Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the army’s deputy chief of staff, suggested Iran could deploy military advisers. “The Islamic Republic … feels its duty to help the people of Yemen in any way it can and to any level necessary,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has paid a high political and diplomatic price for its Yemeni misadventure, with scant return so far. Its actions have turned the spotlight on its lamentable human rights record, notably its recent execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a leading Shia cleric. The Yemen bloodshed has alienated western public opinion and European politicians fearful of another Middle East refugee emergency and associated Islamist radicalisation.
Despite the Saudi-led intervention, al-Qaida, in particular, retains a strong and expanding foothold in southern Yemen and uses it as a recruiting and training base. Washington is quietly carrying out its own campaign there behind the Saudi smokescreen. At least 40 AQAP militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike this week.
Saudi failure in Yemen follows strategic reverses in Syria, where Russia’s autumn intervention reinforced Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and Riyadh’s sworn foe. Bold plans by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the impulsive Saudi defence minister, to send troops to support Syria’s Sunni rebels have come to nothing, while Saudi involvement in the U.S.-led air campaign against Isis has been minimal.
Iranian leaders, meanwhile, appear ever more confident as they entrench their influence and interests in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula. Their buoyant mood can be attributed in part to last year’s landmark nuclear deal with Washington and the subsequent lifting of western sanctions. The Saudis were appalled. But the U.S. overrode their objections.
Speaking recently, Barack Obama was woundingly candid about U.S.-Saudi differences over Syria and Iran. He spoke of America’s Saudi alliance with barely disguised distaste. And he offered some unpalatable advice to his “friends” in Riyadh. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians – which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen – requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighbourhood,” Obama said. Sectarian rivalries were not in the U.S. interest. And the Saudis, he suggested, could no longer count on preferential treatment.
British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are immoral and illegal, commentary by Dianne Abbott, The Guardian, March 25, 2016
(Diane Abbott is the Labour Party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (London). She is a member of the shadow cabinet of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.)
Britain is at war with Yemen. So why does nobody know about it?, commentary by Owen Jones, The Guardian, Jan 28, 2016
Dutch parliament votes to ban weapon exports to Saudi Arabia
The Dutch parliament passed a bill on Tuesday calling for the government of the Netherlands to halt weapon exports to Saudi Arabia, citing ongoing violations of humanitarian law in Yemen.
The Dutch vote effectively seeks to implement a decision in February by the European Parliament, which called on countries in the European Union to impose an arms embargo against Riyadh.
Around 6,000 people have been killed since Saudi-led troops entered the conflict in Yemen last March, almost half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.
The Dutch bill cited a U.N. report from Jan. 22 by the Panel of Experts on Yemen and ongoing executions in Saudi Arabia as reasons for the ban.
It asked the government to strictly implement the weapons embargo and not to licence dual-use exports that could be used to violate human rights.
Britain and France are the main European suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia. Germany licensed arms exports of almost $200 million to the Sunni kingdom in the first six months of 2015, the latest economy ministry data available. Dutch figures were not immediately available.
Canada seeks to improve arms sales to Middle-East
By Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International, March 18, 2016
In the midst of a controversy over the Liberal government’s plan to proceed with a massive sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia comes word the government is seeking a salesman to promote and increase Canadian arms sales to the Middle-East.
Under the previous Conservative government, a $15 billion deal was struck with Saudi Arabia to supply them with the latest version of Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) produced by General Dynamics-Canada in London, Ontario. The Conservative government was highly criticized for supplying weaponry to a state which many critics say has a dismal human rights record. A UN report also criticized the Saudi’s for an indiscriminate bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen.
Because of these concerns, it was thought the new Liberal government might scrap the deal. However, in January, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaking on a CBC programme was questioned about the deal after the Saudi’s carried out a mass execution of 47 prisoners, including a prominent Shia cleric, which caused massive protests in Iran. Minister Dion said, the deal would not be stopped, “What’s done is done and the contract is not something we will revisit”.
This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the deal would go through because otherwise Canada’s ability to conduct international business would be seriously jeopardized. Speaking to journalists during his visit to the United Nations, he said, “It would indeed be just about impossible for Canada to conduct business in the world … if there was a perception that any contract that went beyond the duration of the life cycle of a given government might not be honoured.”
He added the previous government was democratically elected adding “They signed on to a contract and we are bound to respect that contract.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, also in New York told reporters that the government will make changes to it’s policy on arms sales. “What Canada must do, and we will do it with more rigour than ever before – we will have things to announce on this matter – is ensuring that the equipment that we sell is not misused.”
Now the Crown agency that promotes exports, Canadian Commercial Corporation, (CCC) is advertising for a director to be based in Abu Dhabi who, in addition to promoting commercial activity will increase sales in defence and security equipment. The position pays between $107,000 to $141,000.
As it looks to continuously build its international business, CCC is seeking a dynamic and proven sales executive as its new Director, Business Development and Sales (BD&S) – Middle East to work abroad based in Abu Dhabi. The successful candidate will increase sales opportunities in the Middle East in the defence/security and infrastructure/international commercial business sectors, augmenting Canadian market share and Canadian exporter profile; achieve regional and corporate objectives; and ensure long-term business growth for CCC.
At a defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi last year, the local newspaper The National, reported that Canada spent $2.5 million on its sales pavilion for 53 exhibiting arms and related equipment companies.
Arms sales to Saudi Arabia: The blood on Canada’s hands, news compilation on New Cold War.org, Jan 3, 2016
Dion vows to toughen rules on arms sales to rogue regimes
Daniel LeBlanc and Laura Stone, The Globe and Mail, March 16, 2016
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion vows to tighten rules on arms sales to countries with shaky human-rights records, promising a more rigorous export regime than the one that allowed a $15-billion sale of weaponized vehicles to Saudi Arabia under the previous government.
Mr. Dion made his comments in the wake of a growing backlash on military sales to Saudi Arabia, which is accused of widespread human-rights violations and indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen.
“What Canada must do, and we will do it with more rigour than ever before – we will have things to announce on this matter – is ensuring that the equipment that we sell is not misused,” Mr. Dion told reporters during a visit to the United Nations.
Also in New York, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision not to cancel the sale to Saudi Arabia, saying he needs to preserve the sanctity of government-approved contracts.
“Canada is a country of the rule of law, a country of democratically elected government, and regardless of how we may feel about a previous government, the fact is they were democratically elected. They signed on to a contract and we are bound to respect that contract,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference.
He said his government will handle future arms sales with a different approach from the previous Conservative government.
“The decisions taken in the past, we will not overturn. But moving forward, we are committed to the kind of openness, transparency and rigour that, quite frankly, Canadians voted for in the last election,” he said.
The offices of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Dion declined to provide further details on Mr. Dion’s promise of a future announcement on the matter.
Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, rejected the notion the Liberal government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth after having undone a number of policies and laws adopted by the previous government. In a statement on Twitter, Mr. Butts said the Liberal Party had promised before the election to amend anti-terror laws and change the Canadian Forces mission in Iraq and Syria, but that it had “also campaigned on respecting the Saudi contract.”
Some experts feel current controls on arms exports are sufficient to block deals involving countries that do not respect human rights, by banning sales of weapons that could be used against civilian populations.
“Existing norms are already sufficiently clear, and there are no needs to go out of our way to be creative,” said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares. “The purpose of these rules is precisely to ensure that Canadian-made goods are not misused.”
He added that the Saudi purchase of weaponized light armoured vehicles (LAVs) could still be blocked as future export permits will need to be authorized to fulfill the contract, which is still in its early stages.
“A good chunk of this deal will entail future permits. It is not all in the past,” Mr. Jaramillo said.
Last month, European Union legislators voted in favour of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. While not legally binding on member states, the European Parliament vote was a moral censure of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and increased the stigma associated with shipping arms to the country.
On Tuesday, the Dutch parliament adopted a motion calling on the country’s government to halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
A United Nations panel has found that the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen has been indiscriminately killing noncombatants through “widespread and systematic” bombing runs, and Saudi Arabia is regularly rated among the “worst of the worst” by Freedom House when it comes to human rights.
The former Conservative government used its diplomatic resources to lobby the Saudis hard for this contract, and Ottawa is fronting the deal on behalf of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, a Canadian subsidiary of a major U.S. defence contractor.
The deal will support 3,000 Canadian jobs over 14 years, in London, Ont., where the vehicles are assembled, as well as across the country.
Last week, the government of Saudi Arabia spoke out for the first time about the controversy surrounding the $15-billion arms deal, saying it will not accept outside criticism of its human-rights record.
In a statement, the Saudi embassy in Ottawa decried what it called “sensationalized and politicized” coverage of the deal brokered by the Canadian government.
The embassy said the idea that human rights should be universal – or adopted by all states worldwide – must not interfere with Islamic rules. “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia believes that call[s] for universality of human rights does not mean imposition of principles and values that go against our Islamic values and religion,” it said.
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