Where do the weapons that Spain sells to Saudi Arabia end up?

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The questioned business of arms in Spain, and in particular arms exports to Saudi Arabia, is again in the eye of the hurricane, amidst the conflict in Yemen, which the UN described as a “humanitarian catastrophe”, and after the terrorist attacks that shook Barcelona last August.

According to data from the Stockholm International Institute for Peace Research (SIPRI), Spain ranks seventh in the global ranking of arms exports, although at a great distance from the major powers that occupy the main ones.

“Despite occupying the seventh place in the global ranking of exports, its percentage has not gone above 3% in recent years according to the SIPRI and none of its industries appear among the top 100 in the world according to the SIPRI ranking for 2015”, explained to BBC Mundo Félix Arteaga, principal investigator of Security and Defense of the Elcano Royal Institute.

However, arms sales from Spain have multiplied considerably since 2000.

Although Spain’s market share is small compared to large exporters, there is something in this business that concerns organizations and civil society: customers.

According to SIPRI, Spain has become, in the period 2012-2016, the third arms supplier of Saudi Arabia, a country involved in regional conflicts such as Yemen, which the UN described as a “humanitarian disaster”.

Amnesty International, together with other international organizations such as Oxfam, is leading a campaign called Weapons Under Control, and demands that the Spanish government stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, given “indications” that “the conflicting parties in the Yemen conflict have committed, with total impunity, serious violations of international law . ”

“There are indications that Spain has violated its own legislation and international law,” Alberto Estévez, Amnesty International’s weapons expert, told BBC Mundo. “It is not applying the law correctly,” he adds, referring to the ban on exporting weapons in situations where there are indications that they can be used to commit atrocities.

The sales of defense material from Spain to the Middle East came to almost 1,400 million euros in the same period (2012-2016), according to data published by the Ministry of Commerce, under the Ministry of Economy.

For its part, Saudi Arabia was the second largest importer of weapons in the world , only behind India, in the period 2012-2016, according to the SIPRI.

In addition to Spain, the main arms suppliers in that country are the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The Yemen conflict

The main concern is that the arms that Spain exports to Saudi Arabia end up in Yemen, something that would violate Spanish law and international law.

The conflict started in 2015 in Yemen, between government forces supported by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the rebel movement of the Houthis, has plunged the country into a terrible humanitarian crisis.

In two years of war, homes, hospitals and schools have been destroyed by Saudi aerial bombardments and more than 3,000 civilians have died .

A blockade imposed by the coalition has unleashed a humanitarian disaster, with 70% of the population in need of aid.

Involved in this operation, Saudi Arabia was the third country with the highest military spending in the world in 2015, although it fell to fourth place in 2016, after spending 30% less than in the previous year, according to the SIPRI.

Both the Spanish legislation and the Arms Trade Treaty – of which Spain is a party – are mechanisms used to ensure responsible export of arms and that exported weapons are not used to commit violations of international law.

One of the assumptions under which arms transfers would be prohibited is if “at the time of authorizing the export, it is known that they could be used to commit attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such “.

In the reports on the exports made and authorized defense material published annually, the Spanish government argues that in transactions with Saudi Arabia includes documents for use control and final destination, accompanied by clauses of non-re-export or use outside the country.

“Each export request authorized to Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Arab League has been accompanied by guarantees of end use and strict clauses of non-re-export,” said Secretary of State for Commerce, Marisa Poncela García, in her appearance before the Congress last May to present the report of the export of defense material in 2016.

“Specifically, in all the documents of end use associated with the licenses approved to Saudi Arabia in 2015 and 2016 the authorities of this country certified that the equipment and ammunition were going to be destined for internal use and in no case would they be re-exported without the approval of the Spanish authorities, “he added.

But this is not enough for organizations, which demand more control .

“When there is rational evidence that weapons can be diverted, the law says they must deny authorizations,” said Estevez, of Amnesty International.

For organizations that demand the cessation of exports from Spain to Saudi Arabia, this also represents a problem.

“There is a high percentage of ammunition, artillery, bombs …” Estévez said. On the other hand, “refueling aircraft are essential in the campaign (of Saudi Arabia) in Yemen.

However, for Arteaga, of the Elcano Royal Institute, ” the equipment included in the export statistics of recent years does not seem to contravene that Treaty(on the Arms Trade) which, in its majority, corresponds to military aviation equipment manufactured in cooperation with European partners “.

“When that risk is verified, the Board (Interministerial Regulator of Foreign Trade of Defense and Dual Use Material) proceeds to deny exports,” he added. This body is in charge of authorizing arms exports.

But, “it can not prevent Saudi Arabia or an authorized buyer from using previously exported material,” Arteaga said.

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