Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Report reveals $36m taxpayer funded weapons system deal destined for Saudi ArabiaDefence officials have today confirmed reports that the Australian Government has spent taxpayer funds to support the development of a weapons systems bound for Saudi Arabia – a country which has been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in Yemen.
$36 million to one weapons systems manufacturer in Canberra stands in stark contrast to the Australian Government’s contribution to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen which stands at just $23 million in direct funding over almost 4 years of the conflict.In August 2018, the UN found that actions taken by the Saudi and UAE led coalition in Yemen – including rape, torture and using child soldiers as young as eight – may amount to war crimes. Save the Children is demanding an immediate ban of Australian defence export licenses to Saudi Arabia and other parties to the Yemen conflict which has seen 85,000 children die since 2015.Save the Children Director of Policy and International Programs Mat Tinkler said that Australia’s exportation of weapons to countries engaged in warfare that violates international law is leaving us globally isolated.
“Australia is becoming increasingly isolated in our support for the Saudi led coalition in this way,” said Mr Tinkler.
“The world over, nations have taken steps to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in light of the UN’s finding of possible war crimes.”
In addition to the Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian governments, in recent days both the UK Parliament and the US Congress have taken moves to stop arms sales and other military supplies to parties to the Yemen conflict.
The Department of Defence today confirmed in Senate Estimates that the Australian Government has granted export permits to an Australian company that sold 500 weapons mounting systems to Saudi Arabia.“The fact we’re still exporting defence equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE raises serious questions about what role we’re playing in prolonging this war, in prolonging the suffering of children in Yemen.”“Many Australians would be rightly be shocked to learn that Australia could potentially be contributing to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
“Unfortunately, the secrecy has continued in Senate Estimates this morning, with the Government refusing to disclose what has been sold to Saudi Arabia and what safeguards exist to ensure Australian exports are not being used in support of the war Yemen.”
The Australian Government announced in January 2018 its ambition to become a top 10 defence exporter in the world.
“The Australia Government is clearly pursuing big defence export deals with countries engaged in warfare around the world.
“The question for the Australian Government to answer today is at what cost to taxpayers, and at what cost for children. Because every war is a war against children.”
This month Save the Children released a flagship report, Stop the War on Children, which revealed that almost 1 in 5 children are living in conflict zones around the world and for every 1 fighter killed, 5 children are killed in war. In 2019, it’s Centenary year, Save the Children will be calling on the Australian Government to do more to stop the war on children, including an end to defence exports to parties to the war in Yemen.
By Hilary Whiteman, with Ivan Watson and Sandi Sidhu
The night they fled, Reem and Rawan didn't dare sleep.
It was September 6, 2018. The two Saudi sisters were on a family vacation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For weeks, they had helped their mother organize the trip, feigning excitement at the possibility of two weeks away from Riyadh, but knowing that if all went to plan, they'd never go back. Failure was not an option. Every step of their escape from Saudi Arabia carried the threat of severe punishment or death.
"We knew the first time, if it's not perfect, it will be the last time," Reem says.
CNN has changed the sisters' names and is not showing their faces, at their request for their safety.
The sisters say years of strict Islamic teaching and physical abuse at home had convinced them that they had no future in a society that places women under the enforced guardianship of men, and limits their aspirations.
"It's slavery, because whatever the woman will do it's the business of the male," Rawan says.
That's why they say they renounced Islam.
And that's why aged 18 and 20, they stole back their own passports, hid their abayas under the bedcovers, snuck out of their holiday home and boarded a flight from Colombo to Melbourne, via Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong stopover was supposed to take less than two hours.
Two hours has turned into five months.
Most countries now recognise the Pakistani pattern of behaviour, which explains the almost-universal demand for action against Masood Azhar.
In an interview with DW at the Munich Security Conference, Bilawal Bhutto, Pakistani politician and son of the late PM Benazir Bhutto, urged more engagement between Islamabad and New Delhi to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the 30-year-old chairman of one of Pakistan's oldest and most popular political parties, is trying to make a mark on Pakistani politics.
Eleven years ago, on December 27, 2007, his mother Benazir Bhutto, a two-time premier, was assassinated in the city of Rawalpindi during an election rally. She was allegedly targeted by Islamists that are active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After Benazir's death, Bilawal took over the reins of the party, but from 2008 to 2013 his father Asia Ali Zardari played a more active part in leading the party, also becoming president after the 2008 general elections.
Bilawal is now a member of parliament and a vocal opponent of PM Imran Khan and his policies. An Oxford graduate, Bilawal often speaks for the rights of religious minorities and women. Many in Pakistan believe he could be the future prime minister of the South Asian country.
DW spoke with him at this year's Munich Security Conference, where he was a guest. Bilawal Bhutto shared his views on a number of issues, including the Kashmir conflict and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
DW: Mr. Bhutto, India and Pakistan are once again on a war-footing after the deadly Kashmir attack on February 14. What in your opinion should be done to calm the nerves?
Bilawal Bhutto: I'd like to start by condemning the attack. Our party does not believe in violence and we condemn violence in all forms. It is understandable that the people of India are very emotional right now. They are aggrieved, they are upset and angry. But it is very important for politicians and leaders not to be played by non-state actors and terrorists, who want to divide the people of India and Pakistan. They don't want the people of India and Pakistan to have peaceful relations.
At the same time, we believe that there should be a plebiscite in Kashmir, so that the people there have a democratic outlet. If that takes place, I am sure the terrorism will end there.
India and Pakistan should have more engagement. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the past few years, particularly under PM Narendra Modi's government. It means that it is all the more important for peace-loving Pakistanis and peace-loving Indians to emphasize peace and condemn terrorism in all forms.
But what is the biggest obstacle to peace between India and Pakistan? There has been so many attempts in the past few years but nothing seems to be working.
There are many issues, terrorism being one of them. There is also the Kashmir dispute. I feel that PM Modi has led India away from its secular roots towards a more nationalist government. There hasn't been any genuine attempt to make peace with Pakistan. Perhaps it is more aimed at a domestic audience. There will be elections in India this year and perhaps that is the reason why PM Modi is pursing an aggressive policy.
But there isn't a very liberal government in Pakistan at the moment as well…
That's true. But India is known for its secularism, for its tolerance. India is a bigger and a richer country. It is a bigger democracy and should act like the bigger brother and extend a hand of friendship. Pakistan is willing to reach out.
What are your views on the ongoing talks between Washington and the Taliban? Islamabad is trying to broker a deal between the two parties, but it seems that the Afghan government is being sidelined. Do you think that the exclusion of Kabul from these talks could create a problem in the future?
Absolutely. It is vital that the solution to the Afghan conflict is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Without that it will be difficult to achieve positive and sustainable results. US President Donald Trump's efforts for unilateral talks with the Taliban came as a surprise not only for the Afghan government and Pakistan but also for members of Mr. Trump's own cabinet. But I think this is once again aimed at the domestic audience. Trump wants to be seen as a president who is trying to get out of Afghanistan.
But that's not how conflicts are resolved. Afghanistan needs a plan for reconciliation, but reconciliation should not be capitulation. You can't just cut and run. Mr. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, put it very well: "You break it, you fix it." Washington should look at it as an opportunity to enhance its economic cooperation in the region, and also looks for a plan for reconstruction in the region. The US should not leave the region in a mess – the one we saw in Iraq with the emergence of "Islamic State" (IS).
There's lot of fatigue around the long Afghan conflict. It is there for the Afghan government, for the Taliban, for Pakistan, and also for the NATO and the US. We are looking at these developments with hope that here will be an exit strategy.
You are quite a liberal politician and perhaps you should be able to answer this question in a better way than others. There is a lack of trust in the West regarding Pakistan. The international community does not buy the narrative about extremism that Pakistan gives out. Why is there a lack of understanding about how to define terrorism?
We have a bad PR, I believe, particularly post Osama bin Laden assassination in Abbottabad. It comes down to a trust deficit. We can't get away from the accusations, of course. But my mother used to say that the time is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Unfortunately, previous dictators damaged Pakistan's reputation, and obviously now the world demands proof of what we claim.
We have to walk the walk, not for the West but for the sake of Pakistan. We have to confront violent extremism if we want all Pakistanis to get along rather than fighting among ourselves. These are own issues that we need to tackle for our own future. I believe that when we genuinely start tackling these issues and start seeing progress in Pakistan, the world will also see the difference. Then we can also see eye to eye to the international community.
But that requires vigorous engagement with the world. Unfortunately, under Former PM Nawaz Sharif's tenure, we saw a dip in our engagement with the rest of the world. Mr. Khan has only been in government for six months but his approach to foreign policy is quite partisan as he has not taken parliament onboard. He did not visit the United Nations to put across Pakistan's point of view to the world. He has only visited countries in a very transactional manner where he is looking for financial aid. That is not how foreign policy and relations are built.