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Friday, June 3, 2016

Ottawa Watching Saudi Arabia-Yemen Arms Transfer

By: Steven Chase, Globe and Mail 

The Trudeau government says it’s watching “very closely” what is unfolding in Yemen, the site of a Saudi-led war where Riyadh is handing over military equipment to Yemeni forces.

Ottawa won’t say, however, precisely what measures are in place, if any, to stop Saudi Arabia from transferring its Canadian-made combat vehicles to Yemeni allies.

A leading human-rights researcher warned a Senate committee in Ottawa this week that the Saudis are training, funding and equipping Yemeni forces under the control of General Ali Mohsen, a military commander from Yemen who’s been repeatedly accused of laws-of-war violations.

Were Saudi Arabia, a long-time customer of Canadian light-armoured vehicles, to be lending or giving these machines to Yemeni allies, it could jeopardize Ottawa’s ability to proceed with a $15-billion arms sale to Riyadh. Typical end-user certificates in arm sales prohibit the transfer of arms to a third party.

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Minister, said Thursday that Canada is “very concerned” about Yemen. A shaky ceasefire in the region has been regularly violated and the aerial bombing has yielded to an increasing ground campaign backed by Saudi Arabia.

Her comments come one day after Belkis Wille, with international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, alerted Canadian senators to the possibility that this country may inadvertently be dragged into the conflict.

Ms. Wille, who lived in Yemen for 3 1/2 years, urged Ottawa Wednesday to suspend a $15-billion sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia if Ottawa fails to obtain guarantees that Canadian-made combat vehicles are not among assets being handed over to Gen. Mohsen’s army.

Canada has sold Saudi Arabia hundreds of light-armoured vehicles over the past 25 years and videos and photos appearing on social media since 2015 show Canadian-made machines being deployed in the conflict with Houthi rebels in Yemen.

It’s not clear whether the Saudis, or Yemenis, are driving them.

Human Rights Watch has for years chronicled laws-of-war violations under Gen. Mohsen.

Ms. Wille said during earlier wars against Houthi rebels from 2004 to 2009, Human Rights Watch documented numerous violations under his watch “including indiscriminate attacks, killing civilians, as well as arbitrary detention and forced disappearances,” she said, referring to abductions. “The idea that this man is leading a force armed by the Saudis and crossing into Yemen is of extreme concern to any country that is arming the Saudis given the fact this force will be needing more and more equipment,” she said.

Ms. Goldsmith-Jones said Ottawa is monitoring the conflict, when asked whether Canada is worried about Canadian-made fighting vehicles being handed over to Yemeni forces and what measures are in place to stop this.

She said the sale deal with Saudi Arabia states that the vehicles cannot be used against non-combatants.

“The agreement stipulates … the goods must not be turned, as you know, against civilians.”

“We’re concerned about the Yemeni situation, of course, and human rights there, yes,” she said. “We’re very concerned about the human-rights record of Saudi Arabia and we’re following the situation with regard to Yemen very closely,” the MP said.

The department of Global Affairs declined to say whether it has any evidence that combat vehicles produced by Canada have already been used in this manner.

“Canada … calls on all parties to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Global Affairs spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said, adding that Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion “raised relevant issues” when he visited Saudi Arabia last week.

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a disarmament group that tracks arms shipments, said raising concerns with Saudi Arabia is an inadequate response, particularly given recent reports chronicling eroding human-rights conditions in the Mideast country.

He said Canada must obtain, or demonstrate that it’s obtained, assurances from Saudi Arabia that place limits on how the armoured vehicles are being used.

“The likelihood of further human-rights abuses does not simply call for issues to be raised, but for specific assurances concerning the end use of Canadian-made goods to be sought and received.”