Air New Zealand’s contract with the Saudi military is an unacceptable breach of international obligations and New Zealanders’ trust, said Oxfam today, as the aid agency called for the government’s investigation to be made public.
The $3m contract, signed by Air New Zealand in 2019 to repair critical engine components for Saudi naval vessels, is more than twice the value of New Zealand’s humanitarian assistance last year to the conflict in Yemen – the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“With one hand, New Zealanders are donating critical funds through government and humanitarian agencies to save lives in Yemen, while with another, a New Zealand company, of which the New Zealand government is a majority stakeholder, is supporting a military accused by the UN of war crimes during this crisis,” said Oxfam New Zealand’s executive director, Rachael Le Mesurier. “The New Zealand public deserves an investigation that answers the question of whether or not this country has failed to live up to its legal and ethical obligations to the international community.”
Le Mesurier said the fact Air New Zealand could not answer whether its remaining military contracts were aiding international humanitarian crimes must spark a bigger conversation about how we hold New Zealand businesses to account. “It all points to the need for stronger measures to monitor and ensure New Zealand corporate compliance with human rights in their overseas operations.”
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and its military coalition partners have been parties to the conflict in Yemen’s vicious civil war, leading the fighting and preventing shipments of life-saving supplies by air, land and sea– committing, the UN say, clear violations of International Humanitarian Law.
“Yemenis were looking to the people and Government of New Zealand to help put a stop to these outrageous violations; not enable them,” said Le Mesurier. “By providing services to the Saudi Navy, implicated in potential war crimes, Air New Zealand has bought a share of the blame for the resulting humanitarian catastrophe.”
After more than five years of war, over 24 million Yemenis – eighty per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance, with almost 4 million people displaced and half a million facing starvation. Saudi Arabia’s military has enforced intermittent blockades on Yemen’s ports, disrupting humanitarian access and preventing imports of food, water and medical supplies.
Le Mesurier said while it was good that Air New Zealand has since cancelled work on the contract, and the Government has announced it is investigating, it raises serious questions about the processes in place to monitor such deals. “Oxfam welcomes these first steps, but this contract suggests that many serious ethical failures occurred at many levels,” she said.
“Both Kiwis and the people of Yemen deserve better from the New Zealand government and the companies they trust. The prime minister must urgently deliver answers on whether this contract violated New Zealand’s international legal obligations, such as under the Arms Trade Treaty; and whether export control procedures were followed, and on what basis the contract was approved.
“If Air New Zealand – a company in which the government itself owns the majority of the shares – can circumvent export controls, what confidence do we have other companies aren’t doing the same?”, she asked.
Ibtisam Sageer Al Razehi, a 35-year-old former teacher and mother of three, lives with her children in the remains of the family house in Sa’ada city in Yemen, which was damaged by missiles and artillery fire. Her husband was killed by an airstrike in 2015.
“I lost my husband, my children lost their father, we lost the breadwinner and because of war I also lost my salary as our last hope for living,” she said.
“Humanitarian aid has decreased a lot; now we receive food every two months instead of every month. I appeal to the world to have mercy on the children of Yemen and stop this war. We are very tired of living in war for years, we lost everything beautiful in our lives, even the simple hope of peace.’’
Notes to editors:
- Article 6 of the Arms Trade Treaty prohibits the transfer of arms to countries where there is awareness of any war crimes or other serious violence against civilians. However, even where this threshold is not reached, Article 7.1 further requires that state parties ‘pursuant to its national control system, shall, in an objective and non-discriminatory manner, taking into account relevant factors, including information provided by the importing State in accordance with Article 8 (1), assess the potential that the conventional arms or items: […] could be used to:
- commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law;
- If, after conducting this assessment and considering available mitigating measures, the exporting State Party determines that there is an overriding risk of any of the negative consequences in paragraph 1, the exporting State Party shall not authorise the export.
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