Canada and the UN Arms Embargo on Libya

Tasneem Jamal

Open letter to Canada’s Foreign Minister

August 30, 2011
The Honourable John Baird
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2

Re: Canada and the UN Arms Embargo on Libya

Dear Minister,

I am writing to seek clarification on Canada’s legal interpretation and reported approval of the recent delivery of a Canadian-made surveillance drone to forces in Libya opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. The concern is that the transfer may be illegal because it contravenes the current UN arms embargo on Libya.

In late August, several national and international news sources reported the July delivery of a Scout surveillance drone produced by Aeryon Labs Inc in Waterloo, Ontario to members of the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya. The Washington Post (August 24) stated that the transfer was brokered by a TNC representative in Ottawa and the Canadian government approved the sale. The drone was delivered personally by a Canadian citizen who travelled to Libya and who provided training in use of the drone.

In February 2011 UN Security Council resolution 1970 imposed an arms embargo on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. It is our understanding that the embargo extends to all participants in the hostilities in Libya, not solely the forces of President Gadhafi.

Additionally, the Security Council resolution states that not only transfers of “arms and related materiel” are embargoed but also “technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance, related to military activities.” The resolution provides for exemptions to the embargo only if they receive prior approval from the relevant UN sanctions committee.

I would be grateful for clarification from the Canadian government on whether the transfer of the drone from Canada constitutes a breach of the UN arms embargo. In particular, we are seeking responses to the following questions:

1. Did the Canadian government – as claimed in reports — authorize the transfer of the drone to Libya for use by the TNC? Was an export permit issued? Since the manufacturer’s representatives publicly have confirmed the transfer, and even estimates of its value, considerations of commercial or third-party confidentiality that typically would prevent the release of such information do not appear to apply.

2. If authorization was given, did the Canadian government request an embargo exemption from the relevant UN sanctions committee prior to approval? If an exemption was not sought, on what basis was authorization provided?

3. Alternatively, did the government provide advice to the relevant parties to the transfer that export authorization was unnecessary? If so, why was the transfer not considered subject to the UN embargo?

We are aware of the delivery of the drone to Libya because of press reports. The one reported transfer raises the question of whether other transfers from Canada may also have occurred but were not reported.

Like all UN member states, Canada is legally bound by sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. In this instance, we are seeking assurances that the Canadian government has met its obligations to uphold international law.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
John Siebert
Executive Director

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