New Zealand approved military exports to Saudis' Yemen war ally UAE

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New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) approved export permits for military equipment that was sent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of Saudi Arabia’s partners in the war in Yemen, in 2018 and 2019, RNZ has reported.

Experts told the national broadcaster the information added to concerns that New Zealand may have contributed to war crimes in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been leading an offensive against Houthi rebels since 2015.

Tuesday’s revelation came a month after a separate report that the ministry had approved export permits of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2018 and after the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, ordered an investigation when it emerged that an Air New Zealand company had worked on the engine of a Saudi Arabian navy ship.

RNZ said it had obtained documents under the Official Information Act that showed a permit was granted in 2018 allowing for the export of weapons suppressors to the UAE’s land forces. Further permits allowed the export in 2018 and 2019 of artillery control systems used by the land forces for training.

The ministry did not reveal the identity of the exporters, nor the value or quantity of the equipment.

“In both cases it was assessed that they would not be used in Yemen and the applications were approved,” a spokesperson said.

“MFAT carefully assesses all applications against the New Zealand Export Controls regime framework of criteria, which includes specific consideration as to whether any equipment could be used to contribute to human rights abuses, as well as any reputational risks by association with entities or countries.”

A Saudi-led offensive into Yemen has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, as well as widespread malnutrition and a refugee crisis.

The years-long war has been described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the Red Cross has warned for three years in a row Yemen is the country most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe.

According to the UN, 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people need some form of aid or protection. Joe Biden announced last month that the US would end its support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen.

Experts have questioned how New Zealand could be sure its exports were not being used in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition has been accused of committing human rights abuses.

A former New Zealand foreign ministry official who had direct knowledge of its export controls regime in the early to mid-2000s told RNZ its justification for sending military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE was “bullshit” and that the ministry could not know where it would end up. “Will New Zealand really be absolved of any wrongdoing by having sent military goods to one part of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces that it did not believe to be involved in war crimes?”

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