Arms exports to UAE may be fuelling Yemen war, records show

Conventional Weapons, Research in Action

The following excerpt is from an article published by Ricochet on February 3, 2022

Canada has one of the most rigorous arms export oversight processes in the world. So goes, at least, the boilerplate statement issued by the federal government whenever any journalist, civil society group, or opposition politician asks about this country’s thriving international arms sales business.

In defending its most high-profile weapons deal, struck with the Saudi dictatorship, the Canadian government has stood by this claim for years while waving away concerns about its frequent shipments of armoured vehicles.

But behind closed doors in the spring of 2020, staff at then foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne’s office seemingly paused for a brief moment to consider what the windfall profits for weapons manufacturers — and for the federal government, which benefits handsomely from the tax revenue from these sales — might actually mean as Canada prepared to sell weapons to the United Arab Emirates. Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE is deeply implicated in the unfolding tragedy in Yemen, now one of the most horrific conflicts on the planet.

As Canadian officials prepared to approve arms exports, they requested information about the possibility the weapons would wind up contributing to the carnage in Yemen. Against this backdrop of violence, in the dry language of bureaucracy, they wrote, “For UAE, please confirm that they are not utilized in the war in Yemen” and “we would need an analysis of whether there is any risk that these items be used in Yemen.”

Ricochet has spent the past year seeking records of what resulted from these inquiries about sales to the UAE. Newly obtained internal government files provide insight into these exports — as well as the ways Canada justifies the uninterrupted flow of weapons to one of its preferred partners in the Middle East.

The current Yemeni government recognized by Canada is actually not based in Yemen but rather in Saudi Arabia, having operated partly in exile since President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi fled the country in the face of street protests and military setbacks in early 2015. A separate administration pushing for autonomy from the central government governs the formerly independent south of the country. Meanwhile, the Ansar Allah–led government, commonly referred to as the Houthis, controls the Yemeni capital Sana’a and much of the rest of the country.

“Canada is one of a shrinking group of countries that have not, in some way, tempered arms exports to members of the Saudi-led coalition in response to abuses in Yemen,” notes Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with Project Ploughshares who has previously testified before Parliament on arms sales.

Italy did just that in early 2021, for example, citing human rights concerns. Denmark has also done the same, with its foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, stating in May 2020, “My line is very clear: weapons and military equipment should not be exported to either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates from Denmark, as long as the products in question risk being used in the Yemen conflict.”

Gallagher is alarmed by how Ottawa consistently fails to acknowledge that Canadian weapons could contribute to violations of humanitarian law in Yemen, pointing out that the UAE has previously diverted weapons to allied groups there and that “some of these groups face serious allegations of violating human rights and are not beholden to export regulations. This is relevant information that informs the risk associated with Canadian arms exports to the UAE.”

Click here to read the full article by Jon Horler at Richochet. 

Photo: “Destroyed house in the south of Sanaa” by Ibrahem Qasim is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0. 

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