Readers may recall the recent controversy over Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
And the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan refusing to say if Ireland voted for or against this inclusion.
In the Dáil.
Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly suggested that Ireland did vote for Saudi Arabia’s inclusion and that it did so because of the arms export licences that Ireland issues to Saudi Arabia.
Clare Daly: “It is clear, despite that it has not been publicly acknowledged by Government, that Ireland voted for Saudi Arabia to be part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The question beggared belief with many people, given Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights and human rights.
“Maybe the answer lies in the question in front of the Minister about the massive spike in the licences issued – documented in the report published by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation about arms exports – in 2015 and the first six months of 2016 to the Saudi Arabian alliance, which has been involved in the bombardment of Yemen.
“What is going on in a neutral country, particularly when all of the weapons involved are in category ML5? It includes very serious activities, such as bombing computers, gun-laying equipment, weapon control systems and so on.”
Mary Mitchell O’Connor: “The EU has a range of sanctions in place in respect of countries engaged in conflicts. All licence applications are considered having regard to these measures. Sanctions can include arms embargoes and various restrictive measures including prohibitions on the provision of targeted goods and services. My Department observes all arms embargoes and trade sanctions when considering export licence applications. There are no EU sanctions in place in respect of Saudi Arabia.
“All export licence applications, whether for dual-use or military goods, are subject to rigorous scrutiny, and are considered in the light of the spirit and objectives of the 2008 EU Common Position on Arms Exports. My officials are in regular contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on export licensing issues. They consult with that Department in respect of all military export licence applications. My officials seek observations on any foreign policy concerns that may arise in respect of a proposed export. Such factors are subject to review in the light of developments in a given region.
“Any observations which may arise from this examination are considered in the final assessment of any licence application. My Department may refuse an export licence, following consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other EU and non-EU export licensing authorities, as appropriate. As indicated in the annual report, my Department issued one military export licence with Saudi Arabia as the ultimate end-user. This was in 2015 in respect of category ML5 military products, which includes electronic control devices and components.
Daly: “There has been no movement since I asked the Minister the question last time, except for the 1,200 dead Yemeni children, the tens of thousands injured and the 4 million suffering from acute malnutrition.
“I asked the Minister about the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, which prevents sale of arms to a country if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law. We know that the British Parliament, on a cross-party basis, has recommended the suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, until a UN-led investigation into violations of human rights is concluded.
“The UK is not even a neutral country. We are.
“We should be leading on these matters, particularly when it is also the case that we should be careful about selling arms to countries with links to terrorism. We know from Ms Hillary Clinton’s emails, no less, that Saudi Arabia arms ISIS. It is ridiculous that we continue to issue arms export licences to this country which is involved in war crimes. It is not good enough.
“I did not ask the Minister about an arms embargo and do not want to hear about it. Why, against that backdrop, would we not institute a presumption of denial policy, which could be brought in overnight and put us to the forefront on these very important human rights issues?
Mitchell O’Connor: “The Deputy mentioned export licences. I said one military export licence was issued. We do not export arms. The key consideration in dealing with military export licence applications is to establish if there are concerns with the end-user or proposed end-use. This process may include consultation, as I outlined earlier.
“My Department consults with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In addition, end-user certificates are always required as a further control measure. End-user certificates provide information on the proposed transaction. They certify that the company will be the final recipient of the goods being exported and include an undertaking that the goods will not be used in connection with weapons of mass destruction.
“Individual licences are valid for the export of a specific quantity of goods to a specific end-user within a 12-month period. A new application must be made for any exports above that provided for on the original export licence. All new and repeat licence applications are subject to the full export licensing scrutiny process. All licence applications are considered in the spirit and objectives of the 2008 EU Common Position on Arms Exports.”
Daly: “Does the Minister presume that it is a coincidence that we have gone from zero arms sales to Qatar and declining arms sales to the UAE to a significant uptake in both of those figures in 2015? All of the arms exports to Saudi Arabia were in the category of ML5. That category includes weapon sites, bombing computers, gun-laying equipment and weapon control systems.
“These are not incidental bits of hardware. The issue of the destination and final end use actually makes no difference to our obligations under the EU common position, which states that if there is a risk of this military technology or equipment being used in the violation of human rights, then they should not be exported. That is the question that is being asked.
“It does not really matter if the weapon components stop off in another country on their way to Qatar. Our obligations in that instance are the same. I ask the Minister to look at the issue of a presumption of denial within the Department whereby, even as an interim measure, we could take a step and institute overnight that if anybody from these countries applies for a licence to export arms to Saudi Arabia, they can be refused. The Government has not dealt with that. I must ask the Minister about it. We are talking about lives, war crimes and a violation of human rights.
Mitchell O’Connor: “The information I have in front of me outlines that there was one military export with Saudi Arabia as its final end user destination. These were not for the production of arms. Sometimes they are components for helicopters and Jeeps. I do not think the Deputy can jump to the conclusion that we are exporting arms or components for arms. I do not think that the Deputy can do that at all…”
Daly: “That classification is there.”
Mitchell O’Connor: “…because our Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade take an extreme view and make sure that the applicants are denied if there are any questions to be asked in that instance.”