Arms supplied by Australia to the United Arab Emirates are potentially being diverted to militias engaged in the bloody Yemeni civil war, new research from Amnesty International has revealed.
The investigation, When arms go astray: Yemen’s deadly new threat of arms diversion to militias, shows how the UAE has become a major conduit for armoured vehicles, mortar systems, rifles, pistols, and machine guns – which are being illicitly diverted to unaccountable militias accused of war crimes and other serious violations.
Amnesty International analysed open-source evidence around the battle for Hodeidah and found that military vehicles and weapons supplied to the UAE are now widely in use by militias on the ground.
The armed groups on the receiving end of these dodgy arms deals – including “The Giants”, the Security Belt and Elite Forces – are trained and funded by the UAE, but are not accountable to any government. Some of them stand accused of war crimes, including during the recent offensive on the port city of Hodeidah and in the UAE-backed network of secret prisons in southern Yemen.
Amnesty International has repeatedly asked the Australian Government for information regarding its supply of arms to both the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without response.
Australia continues to fuel the conflict in Yemen by transferring military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE
“Despite mounting pressure from around the world, Australia continues to fuel the conflict in Yemen by transferring military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Diana Sayed, Crisis Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia said.
“Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have suspended arms transfers to the UAE and in December the US Senate voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Australia must now follow suit.
“The UN has concluded that all parties to the conflict in Yemen may be guilty of war crimes. But despite the evidence that arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be used to carry out violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, Australia continues to export military equipment. As a global arms control leader Australia must take decisive action now and cease the trade of all military equipment to Saudi and the UAE-led coalition.”
States supplying arms to UAE
Since the outbreak of the Yemeni conflict in March 2015, Western states and others have supplied the UAE with more than US$5 billion worth of heavy conventional weapons – including aircraft and ships – small arms, light weapons and associated parts and ammunition.
Despite the serious violations attributed to the UAE and militias it backs, the following states have recently supplied the Emiratis with arms: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czechia, France, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the USA, among others.
A wide variety of US-supplied armoured vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns, including M-ATV, Caiman and MaxxPro models, have been documented in the hands of UAE-backed militias Security Belt, Shabwani elite forces and “The Giants”.
Belgian Minimi light machine guns, also likely sold to the UAE, are being deployed by “The Giants”. Other weapons used by UAE-allied militias in Hodeidah include Serbian-made Zastava MO2 Coyote machine guns and the Agrab armoured-truck-mounted Singaporean 120mm mortar system – the UAE is the only country known to purchase this combined weapon system.
Elsewhere in Yemen, the UAE has directly trained and funded militias including the Security Belt and Elite Forces, which operate a shadowy network of secret prisons known as “black sites”.
Amnesty International and others have previously documented these forces’ role in enforced disappearances and other violations at these facilities – including detention at gunpoint, torture with electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging from the ceiling, sexual humiliation, prolonged solitary confinement, squalid conditions and inadequate food and water.
The UAE-backed militias running these black sites wield Bulgarian rifles and drive US armoured vehicles.
Violating the Arms Trade Treaty
Many of the states that continue to supply arms to the UAE are party to the global Arms Trade Treaty. Some have other legal obligations as EU members or under domestic laws not to transfer arms being used to commit war crimes. By persisting in transferring arms to the UAE, despite overwhelming evidence those arms are being used in war crimes and other serious violations in Yemen, they are flouting these obligations.
Amnesty International again calls on all states such as Australia to stop supplying arms to all parties to the conflict in Yemen until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.