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Finland grants arms deals to human rights violators

According to SaferGlobe Finland, the exporting of arms to countries like Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia and Kazakhstan poses critical risks. EU countries should not supply military equipment to nations where their provision could cause or prolong conflicts or exacerbate tensions.

Patrian Nemo-kranaatinheitinjärjestelmä
A Patria Nemo mortar system. Image: Patria

In 2011, Finland granted arms export licenses to 25 countries which are troublesome in terms of EU criteria regarding acceptable export risks. This is according to the Bonn International Centre on Conversion (BICC).

At least one of the EU’s eight-point criteria is critically problematic in all 25 cases, states a 2011 Finnish Arms Export report that was released on Monday.

BICC estimates are based on statistics from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, the World Bank and Freedom House.

Embargoes against the export of Finnish defence equipment are set out in accordance with international arms agreements, as well as in line with Finland's foreign and security policy. The export licensing authorities can also decide on arms export matters.

Many deals fail to fulfil EU criteria

The EU criteria used to assess the risk levels associated with the export of military equipment refers to levels of tension and armed conflict. One of the criteria stipulates that EU member states must refuse licenses for the export of military technology and military equipment if it could provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions in the country of final destination.

Despite the findings of various reports and statistical evidence, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has not cancelled export licenses for Bahrain or suspended arms shipments to the country, despite international concern over human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch reported that during 2011, 1,600 people were arrested, 300 people were sentenced in military courts and at least 40 people were killed, in the country, four of whom were tortured to death. Since summer 2011, the situation has been somewhat calmer in Bahrain, but clashes continue to occur.

Saudi Arabian and Kazakh exports are also a large cause for concern, according to the report.

Police can shoot into crowds without consequences in Kazakhstan

According to Freedom House, there is no press freedom in Kazakhstan. Internet freedoms and freedom of assembly are also restricted and oppression of the public voice has been known to escalate into direct violence. Meanwhile, arms are being received by private companies and the distribution of weapons in the country and beyond its borders is impossible to control effectively.

Despite this, the Ministry of Defence in October 2011 granted licenses to export sniper rifles and a large amount of ammunition to the country.

SaferGlobe Finland claims that it is problematic that arms and ammunition can be shipped to a country in which police can fire into a crowd with impunity. The report refers to an incident in December 2010, when police dispersed striking oil workers by firing directly into the crowd.

Shipments to undemocratic Saudi Arabia part of Finnish government programme

SaferGlobe Finland estimates that the 100 million euros worth of grenade and ammunition exports between Finnish arms manufacturer Patria and Saudi-Arabia was the third largest weapons export deal of the 2000s.

Yet Economics Intelligence United rated Saudi Arabia as the eighth least democratic nation in the world in 2010.

The country does not have a parliament and the autocratic government is run by the Saudi royal family. Political parties and trade unions are banned, and there is no freedom of assembly or freedom of association.

According to the report, torture by the Saudi authorities is a regular occurrence and pursuant to strict Islamic laws, death penalties and public beatings are commonly enforced. The country has stifled Shia Muslim demonstrations, fired artillery at Yemeni dissidents and sent troops to overthrow Bahraini pro-democracy demonstrations during the Arab spring of 2011.

The EU’s common position is to allow that a member state’s economic and industrial interests can be taken into account when issuing permits for export. However, the reports emphasises that economic benefits should not affect the key priority, which is compliance with the eight-point criteria for legitimate export.

Recent findings could well place the legitimacy of much of Finland’s arms exporting under close scrutiny.

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