Dispatch: The Dutch arm exports to human rights violators

The Netherlands entered the top-10 of global arms export in the 2013-2017 period according to the Trends in international arms transfers by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). SIPRI uses a Trend Indicator Value (TIV) that attributes to surplus weapons a 40% value of their original cost and small arms and ammunition are not included in the SIPRI figures. In 2018, The Dutch Government replied to SIPRI’s ranking stating that the results would have been different if all forms of exports of military equipment were included (e.g. ammunition) and if the sales or license value were the starting point for the ranking.

Despite the Dutch government’s intention to not sell arms to countries committing human rights violations, Dutch manufactured arms and weapons have surfaced in countries such as Bahrain that were being used as a method to repress the civil liberties of the populous. In addition, and in spite of the Dutch Parliament weapons ban against states that are belligerents in the Yemen war, Dutch banks have continued to invest in companies that have businesses with key actors involved in conflicts and human rights violations.

During the 2011 pro-democracy movement Dutch armored vehicles had been identified by the anti-war group, Stop Wapenhandel, as being employed by Bahraini police forces against the peaceful pro-democracy protestors. This was the result of 35 M-113 and 25 YPR armored vehicles equipped with 25 mm guns, as well as 13 M-110 howitzers that were exported from the Netherlands between 1994-1997. In addition, tank engines and military trucks continued to be exported in 2003 – the previous 20 years the Netherlands has sold 30 million euro surplus Dutch armed forces military equipment to the Bahraini regime. In spite of the documented use of exported military vehicles being used against civilians, the Netherlands has taken no action in banning further arms exports to the regime. In fact, in the latest 2018 Dutch Arms Export Policy, arms exports from the Netherlands to Bahrain accounted for approximately €20,000.

Exported arms to Bahrain are not only at risk of being used against civilians to contribute to the internal repression by the state, but also by the Bahraini armed forces in the Yemen civil war. Since 2015, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including more than 12,000 civilians. One frightening consequence of this conflict is the great famine that is hitting the country. The United Nations warned that 13 million people in Yemen are facing starvation. Lockheed Martin, which received an investment of $10.6 million mostly from the Dutch bank ING, supplied guided rockets to Bahrain during this period. In addition to these exports, the company has signed a new contract in June 2018 to provide an additional 16 F16s to Bahraini regime. F-16s have been employed by the Bahraini armed forces in attacks against the Houthi rebels in the Yemen war.

In 2016, the Netherlands voted to ban weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, due to its strict connection with human rights violations and its involvement in the war in Yemen. The Dutch parliament acknowledged the mass executions and the bombing campaign perpetrated by the Saudi government in Yemen. Later on, in 2018, the Dutch government extended the arms export freeze to also include UAE and Egypt. The government extended the export freeze to detach itself from any direct involvement in sponsoring the war in Yemen and any other country that perpetuates violation of human rights. “There will be no arms exports from the Netherlands to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE unless it is proven that they will not be used in the Yemen war” said Dutch Foreign Trade and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag.

Yet despite the government’s official suspension of Dutch arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt it was revealed in 2019 that Dutch banks were still investing in arms companies that supply weapons to these state actors. Banks such as ING, ABN AMRO and Van Lanschot Kempen had invested approximately 640 million euros into businesses that had been supporting the arms industry in countries involved in the Yemen war. The most recent data show that nine of ten biggest Dutch pension funds invest in the manufacture of arms supplied to countries that violate human rights. In 2019, the Fair Pension Guide reported that pension funds such as ABP, PFZW and PME invested together more than €927 milion in countries that perpetuate human rights violations.

Companies such as Airbus, that were financed by ABN Amro and ING to the tune of $137.5 million delivered approximately 25 BVRAAM missiles to Egypt between 2015-2018; 23 light helicopters, 2 MP aircraft, 700 air-launched ground attack missiles, 120 air-to-air (BVRAAM) missiles, 2 surface-to-air (SAM) systems to Saudi Arabia from 2016-2018; and 25 anti-ship missiles to the UAE in 2018. General Electric received the greatest investment from ABN Amro, ING and Van Lanschot at $137.5 million. The company was found to have provided around 25 Turbofan airbreathing jet engines to Saudi Arabia. Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the world enjoyed a $182.3 million investment from Dutch banks ING and to a lesser extent ABN AMRO. From the period 2016-2018, Boeing produced 430 anti-ship missiles, 3045 guided bombs, 24 combat helicopters to Saudi Arabia and a staggering 9004 guided bombs to the UAE. Thales, although a smaller company in regards to Airbus, GE and Boeing received  $8.5 million  investment  from ABN AMRO. From 2017-2018 Thales produced 3 weapon tracking radar systems, and 5 ASW sonar systems for Saudi Arabia. The Netherlands hosts a Thales subsidiary company, Thales Nederland B.V. that manufactures naval combat systems and sensors concerning a wide range of surface and anti-air warfare solutions. A significant majority of these sales were conducted after the official Dutch ban on arms exports to these listed countries involved in the Yemeni war.

Find The Table of Controversial Arms Trade HERE

The government defended its lack of actions concerning the bank pension fund scandal, arguing that it lacks the competence to prevent Dutch banks from investing in such companies as it can only issue and suspend export licenses. It shifted the blame on to the banks themselves, maintaining that since all three ABN AMRO, ING and Van Lanschot are members of the ICSR covenant of the banking sector and in accordance with the OECD to identify guidelines and UNGP’s risks, that it is the bank’s responsibility to ensure it is in compliance with the guidelines and principles. Yet still, the Dutch government still lacks a binding policy that regulates and stops the use of pension funds to fund wars and human rights violations abroad. The funds do not take into account the instabilities that certain companies bring in politically unstable regions of the world.

Export licenses for military goods are issued on the basis of the General Customs Act (Algemene Douanewet) and the associated export control regulations. License applications for the export of military equipment are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the eight criteria of Dutch arms export policy. The criteria regard the respect for human rights in the country of destination and its internal situation, the preservation of stability and the nature of the product. The total value of licenses issued in 2018 was €750.93 million.

In the “Dutch Arms Export Policy in 2018” issued in 2019 by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the export of military goods, it is reported that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been subjected to a denial for deliveries due to their involvement in human rights violations. However, in the same report, the UAE is revealed to still be the eighth largest, and Saudi Arabia the tenth largest, in respect to export licenses for dual-use goods in 2018. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia remain in the top-10 countries of final destination outside the EU. More specifically, in 2018, the Dutch government exported to Saudi Arabia military electronics, armour-plating and protective products, parts and components for ‘other military goods’. While the UAE received parts and components for ‘arms and munitions’, other military vehicles, parts and components for other military goods.

Airbus SE, with its headquarters in the Netherlands it is part of MBDA with a 37.5% share, together with Leonardo (25%) and BAE Systems (37.5%). Airbus SE has been involved in a series of controversial exports to countries in the Middle East and North Africa that violate human rights. The company was mainly involved in the export of aircrafts to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE. UAE has also received reconnaissance satellites that have possibly been used for crowd control. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also used equipment, aircrafts and satellites by Airbus Se in the war in Yemen.

In 2015, the non-governmental organization Stop Wapenhandel published a report concerning the involvement of Dutch arms trade with coalition forces in the Yemen war. The three main actors that have been involved in the conflict and supplied with Dutch weapons are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Jordan.

In 2012, the Dutch government granted an export license for communication systems for the Saudis that had to be used in battle tanks. Moreover, the Netherlands sold components for Typhoon fighter jets and F-15 fighter jets. Both of these fighter jets are used in air strikes on Yemen. The Netherlands sold 87 heavy self-propelled artillery systems to the UAE in 1997. More precisely, M109A2/A3 and M109L47 are the propelled grenades fired by the M109 Howitzer, that have a range of 35km and are mainly used to fire at long distances. It is also reported that the Netherlands sold dozens of its surplus of F16s to Jordan, after also granting licenses for air-ground missiles and mission materials. It is noted that the Jordanian air force is participating in airstrikes in Yemen.

Exporting and investing in arms that are used in unstable regions of the world is a practice that has been researched, exposed and condemned by many NGOs and international institutes. Amnesty International has pointed out numerous times the high increase of the global arms trade in the last few years, reporting on the enormous human cost suffered in the last years of conflict. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that between 2014 and 2018, Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest arms importer. As previously denoted, the Saudi are responsible for several human rights violations and their involvement in the war in Yemen has produced thousands of casualties. Stop the War Coalition is another British non-governmental organization that works to spread awareness and stop arms conflict around the globe. They have recently reported the consequences of the current global pandemic in Yemen, and how Covid-19 approaches a fertile ground while the war continues. The organization calls for the end of the conflict and immediate medical assistance in the country.

In this scenario, the Netherlands has been profiteering from the sales of arms to the perpetrators of human rights violations and the belligerents of the war in Yemen. Despite its transparency of arms exports and the suspension of trade with Saudi Arabia, the Dutch bank and pension funds system kept financing the conflicts.