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Defence Minister: Arms exported to conflict areas only on case by case basis

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö has defended Finnish sales of military materiel to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan by saying that such deals are only conducted after case by case consideration. The government has been on the defensive since a new think tank report revealed that some of its arms exports are bound for states involved in conflict or with poor human rights records.

SAKO TRG:n uusin malli.
Finnish rifle and cartridge manufacturer Sako's TRG sniper rifle. Image: Yle

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö reiterated statements made Sunday by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä that Finland’s arms exports policies had not become more lax during the current administration.

A fresh review of Finnish arms exports by the peace and security think tank SaferGlobe Finland has revealed that Finland has sold Patria grenade launchers to Saudi Arabia and Sako sniper rifles to Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia is known to be involved in an ongoing civil conflict in neighbouring Yemen and has been leading air strikes in the region, while Uzbekistan has been described by organisations such as Human Rights Watch as having an atrocious human rights record.

"According to the law we subject Saudi Arabia to case by case consideration. Finland condemns the civilian casualties arising from air strikes in Yemen, but Finnish weapons have not been used in those attacks," Niinistö said.

SaferGlobe Finland noted in its report that in June 2015, the Defence Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia governing cooperation on defence materiel.

The minister went on to describe the situation in Uzbekistan as relatively stable.

"On the whole Uzbekistan has been relatively stable in recent years and the risk that sniper rifles will be used for human rights abuses is believed to be small," Niinistö explained.

Niinistö said that it is not possible to conclude on the basis of export permits granted that human rights are no longer important to Finland. He said that each export license will continue to be reviewed separately.

SDP's Tuomioja: Finland straying from Nordic code

Former Foreign Minister and current Social Democratic Party MP Erkki Tuomioja criticised the Sipilä administration in light of the SaferGlobe report released Monday. He said that Finland is moving away from a common Nordic stance on arms exports.

"Sweden, which has been a small arms industry superpower, has adopted an even stricter position and has in practice ended defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia," the ex-minister pointed out.

However Defence Minister Niinistö wasn't swayed by the comparison.

"Per capita Sweden may be among the world’s largest exporters of defence material. For example they have a fighter jet and submarine industry, and we don’t," Niinistö retorted.

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