SA weapons export to Saudi Arabia, UAE may be breaking international law
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Johannesburg - The government may be aiding and assisting the commission of an internationally wrongful act by selling millions of weapons worth billions of rands to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) and Open Secrets have accused President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration of contributing to the killing and suffering of civilians in war-torn Yemen by selling millions of conventional arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Weapons from South Africa have been found at scenes of civilian attacks, according to the two non-profit organisations.
In one scene of mass civilian killings in 2018, 120mm mortar rounds produced by Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) or its German parent company Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH were found, according to a UN report.
RDM was set up in 2008 and is 51% owned by the German company which provides technology automotive components of defence technology, and troubled state-owned aerospace and military technology company Denel, which holds 49%.
The company also develops, designs and manufactures large and medium-calibre ammunition, artillery, minefield breach systems, aircraft bombs, mortar and infantry systems, among other products.
The SALC and Open Secrets want the North Gauteng High Court to declare the granting of permits to export conventional arms to the two countries involved in the war in Yemen unlawful, unconstitutional, irrational and unreasonable.
Papers filed at the high court by the SALC and Open Secrets state that between 2016 and last year the government approved the export of over 12 million controlled items to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
According to the National Conventional Arms Control Act, controlled items can refer to any component, equipment, system, processes and technology of whatever nature capable of being used in the design, development, manufacture, upgrading, refurbishment or maintenance of weapons and any other articles of war as well as other dual-use goods that are not exclusively for military use but can be used for a military purpose.
The controlled items sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE range from armoured combat and unmanned aerial vehicles, heavy weapons such as snipers and mortars, mortar bombs, rockets, ammunition as well as electronic equipment and software.
The SALC and Open Secrets have hauled acting national conventional arms control committee (NCACC) chairperson, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, and his defence minister and military veterans counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to the North Gauteng High Court to stop the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Lamola, who was the NCACC’s deputy chairperson, replaced late Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, who died in January.
In an affidavit, SALC executive director Anneke Meerkotter told the court that South Africa has not approved arms sales to Yemen since the war in that country started.
However, South Africa exported between 22% and 31% of controlled items valued between R4 billion and R4.6bn in 2019 and last year, respectively, to the two other Gulf countries involved in the conflict.
This is despite the UN group of experts calling for a cessation of conventional arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
”The crux of the application is to ensure that the NCACC complies with South African and international law when considering applications for permits to transfer conventional arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” reads Meerkotter’s affidavit.
“South Africa has a positive obligation to refrain from acts that would aid or assist violations of international humanitarian law,” Meerkotter stated.
RDM has refused to reveal details of the agreements it enters with its clients although it describes itself as an ethical corporate citizen strictly adhering with all relevant legislation.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Judge Navi Pillay has filed an expert affidavit in the matter and backed the multinational body’s group of experts’ report as authoritative and reliable.
Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Yemen-based Nobel Peace Prize-nominated non-governmental organisation Mwatana for Human Rights, also filed a supporting affidavit in which she stated that the supply of arms to Saudi Arabia and UAE by countries such as South Africa has a proximate and lethal impact on civilians in Yemen.