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Australia Set to Boost Weapon Sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia

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2 years 8 months

Australia Set to Boost Weapon Sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia

To the dismay of rights groups, Australia looks likely to increase arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE following a controversial government announcement which has laid out plans for a new weapons export drive in the coming period.

On Monday, the federal government offered defence industry exporters $3.8bn in financial support in a bid to boost Australian arms exports worldwide. According to Stockholm Peace Research Institute data, Australia is currently the 20th biggest arms supplier with annual earnings of around $1.6bn. The government said on Monday that it hopes this latest subsidy will help lift Australia into the top ten weaponry exporter nations.

Though Defence Industry Minister Christopher Payne said that the new strategy will mostly target key markets in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, he also stated his intention to use weapon sales as a means of “cementing relationships” with countries in the Middle East, and nominated the UAE as a likely market under the new export drive.

Australian weapons have been sold to the UAE since at least 2015. During this period, the UN, alongside other rights bodies, have accused the Emirati authorities of committing human rights abuses and war crimes in Libya and Yemen.

The UAE are a key actor in the Saudi-led coalition, who have been at war with Yemeni rebels the Houthis since March 2015. The conflict has so far claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people, displaced up to 3 million and led to an epidemic of cholera in one of the region's poorest countries.

Payne recently visited the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It has been reported that in the last 12 months, at least four contacts have been approved for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Following Payne's trip to the Kingdom last year, Australian defence contractor Austel confirmed that they had opened talks with the Saudis over the potential sale of high-speed support navel vessels. Prior to this, the Australian shipbuilding company had already sold the Yemeni regime 10 high-speed patrol boats designed for anti-piracy raids, though these could also be adapted for military operations.

Though the full details arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners remains undisclosed, it is believed that Australia have already exported a significant amount of weapons to the Yemeni conflict.

Amnesty International heavily criticised the Australian governments recent move.

“We have been asking the Australian Government for some time now to publicly report the exact nature of all arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to date and to its allies in the war in Yemen, and to cease the authorization of future arms transfers while there remains a substantial risk these arms will be used to fuel human rights abuses,” a spokesperson for the rights organisation said.

As the United Nations continue to document severe human rights violations in Yemen, it is completely unjustifiable that the Australian government should seek to boost arms exports to the conflicts key actors, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In doing so, the Australian government must bear responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe that has engulfed the country since since the outset of the war. In the last month, both the Norwegian and Finnish governments announced their intention to suspended arms sales to the UAE over the Yemeni War. It is imperative that the Australian government take note of these developments and consider following suit.

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