Continued arms exports to the war in Yemen. Photo: Felton Davis, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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The double standard in Swedish arms exports

In the government's foreign policy debate at the end of February, the focus was on Sweden's involvement through humanitarian aid in the serious conflict in Yemen. At the same time, the export of Swedish munitions to the warring parties continues, which contributes to human rights violations. Sweden's arms exports are in sharp contrast to the development policy adopted by the Riksdag, says Magnus Walan, senior policy adviser at Diakonia

The world's biggest humanitarian crisis - this is how the UN describes the conflict in Yemen, which has now been going on for six years. 16 million people are on the brink of starvation and 25 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid under the UN Food Program WFP

Swedish arms exports to the war in Yemen

In March 2021, the authority submitted the Inspectorate for Strategic Products (ISP) statistics for Sweden's exports of munitions in 2020 to the government. Despite stricter arms control, Swedish exports of munitions amounted to just over SEK 16,3 billion in 2020. This means that Swedish arms exports have more than quintupled since the beginning of the 2000s. The largest buyer is the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries part of the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.

Yemen Data Project has documented over 22 airstrikes, equivalent to 800 attacks a day, carried out by the military coalition of which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are part. During the conflict, the coalition has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed vital societal functions such as hospitals, residential areas, schools and water and electricity systems.

Swedish double standards?

At the same time as Sweden is committed to increasing aid to Yemen, the sale of Swedish munitions to the Saudi-led coalition continues. Magnus Walan, senior policy adviser at Diakonia, is critical of the government's double standards. 

- It is completely absurd that Sweden is one of the largest donors to this humanitarian catastrophe with one hand, and with the other hand continues to export munitions to the warring parties in Yemen, Walan says.

The loophole in Swedish legislation

In 2003, the Riksdag adopted Sweden's policy for global development (PGU), which states that human rights and democratic principles shall govern Sweden's development policy. Since 2018, Sweden has also tightened export controls, which in short states that exports of munitions should not be granted if there are serious violations of human rights or serious shortcomings in the democratic status of the recipient country.

No new export deals have been approved to Saudi Arabia since 2013 or to the United Arab Emirates since 2017. But the new regulations only apply to new deals and Sweden allows the export of so-called sequential deliveries based on old permits. Subsequent deliveries are a supplement to a previously completed export. In practice, however, it is seen that it enables exports to countries that, based on the new regulations, should be denied permits. Something Magnus Walan is critical of:

- In practice, it's like granting an old customer who bought a Volvo Amazon in the 60's the right to buy the latest Volvo SUV, and classify it as a sequel delivery.

The Inspectorate for Strategic Products (ISP), which grants Swedish arms exports, emphasized in its comment on the new guidelines 2018 that states that violate human rights will probably be recipients of Swedish munitions in the form of consequential deliveries for several decades. 

Continued arms exports to warring dictatorships

Despite guidelines that should prevent the export of munitions to countries in war and conflict, Sweden sells munitions to warring dictatorships. The munitions that Sweden exported to the United Arab Emirates in 2020 belong to ten different categories. Among other things, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, smooth-bore weapons and flying battle command centers were exported. In the previous year, Saudi Arabia imported weapons in three categories, including smooth-bore weapons. 

Swedish weapons are used in the Yemeni war

In the TV4 news examination In 2019, it was established that Swedish-made munitions can be linked to the conflict in Yemen. Among other things, it was used for the blockade which prevented food and necessities from reaching the civilian population. Saab, Sweden's largest producer and exporter of munitions, has pronounced that they as a supplier have "little or no insight into what countries use the products for because it is part of the countries' defense strategy".

Goal conflict

Civil society examination by PGU stated that there is a conflict of goals between Swedish politics and legislation which means that words do not have practical significance when it comes to arms exports. The question for civil society and Magnus Walan is whether Sweden can be a credible voice for peace and democracy, while at the same time conducting arms exports that give foreign dictatorships the means to commit human rights violations? Many voices in civil society say that this does not seem to be the case. 

TV4 News' review in 2019 showed that Swedish-made munitions can be linked to the conflict in Yemen. Photo: Peter Biro / European Union, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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