A Danwatch investigation

Denmark’s largest defense company contributes to possible war crimes in Yemen

A victim of a bombing attack by the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is treated at a hospital in Mocha, Yemen. Human rights organizations and UN experts have said that the both the Saudis and the Emirates may be responsible for possible war crimes in Yemen – amongst other things by bombing civilian targets. Photo: Doctors without Borders

Charlotte Aagaard

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Charlotte Aagaard

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Graphics: Payam Elhami & Johan Seidenfaden

Editor: Jesper Hyhne

In collaboration with TV2, Lighthouse Reports and NOIR
17. May 2020
Aarhus-based defense contractor Terma supplies equipment for warships and bombers used by the United Arab Emirates to starve and target civilians in Yemen. According to experts and human rights organizations, Terma may be responsible for possible war crimes.
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  • Danwatch, together with TV2, the Dutch Lighthouse Reports and the research center NOIR, reveal that Danish defense contractor Terma supplies equipment for warships and bombers used by the United Arab Emirates to starve and target civilians in Yemen.
  • According to experts and human rights organizations, Terma may be responsible for possible war crimes and Danish exports may be in violation of EU and UN guidelines.
  • Our research also shows that Terma’s exports continued despite the Danish ban on military exports to the Emirates in 2018. 
  • The data was generated using satellite imagery, photos and videos shared on social media, public access, anonymous sources and interviews with experts at home and abroad.
  • The study is part of the project EUarms.com. In Denmark, Danwatch, TV2, Berlingske and Nordic Reports (OSINT) from Roskilde University’s Center for Investigative Journalism have participated in the project.

When warships from the United Arab Emirates — equipped with machine guns and missiles — prevent non-military vessels from supplying millions of starving Yemeni civilians with food, medicine and fuel, it is Danish radar systems that guide the way.

And when Emirati bombers facilitate bombing areas controlled by rebel forces in Yemen, the aircraft are protected by Danish anti-missile systems.

Danwatch breaks this report after extensive research conducted in collaboration with TV2 and the Dutch media Lighthouse Reports.

Using satellite imagery, requests for public access, intelligence reports, social media, export permits and dozens of interviews, Danwatch reveals that the Danish defense company Terma has provided both radar and missile defense systems used by the Emirati military to commit possible war crimes in Yemen.

This is in breach of Terma’s obligation to respect human rights, says one of Denmark’s leading international law experts, Professor Emeritus Frederik Harhoff of the University of Southern Denmark, who is a former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

“If Terma was aware that there were serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen and knew that the company’s equipment would be used to commit these crimes, then the crimes are likely to be criminal offenses,” he says.

As such, Denmark has failed to fulfill its international obligations to carry out effective control of the exports of military equipment, several experts said.

In brief

The war in Yemen

The war in Yemen has been ongoing since 2015. On one side of the conflict stands the Houthi rebel group, allied with military forces loyal to former and late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On the other side, supported by a Saudi-led coalition of nine African and Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates, is the UN-recognized Yemeni government, led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The war is estimated to have killed between 100,000 and 230,000 people. UN experts and human rights organizations argues that both sides can be responsible for possible war crimes, and that export of weapons and military equipment is prolonging the conflict.

Possible war crimes

The war in Yemen broke out in 2015, when Houthi militia overthrew the country’s government, which is supported in part by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The war has killed more than 100,000 people and, according to Oxfam’s country manager in Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquey, has made 80 percent of the country’s population dependent on aid.

Both the UN, human rights organizations and independent experts believe that the Emirates is co-responsible for serious human rights violations and possible war crimes in Yemen.

More than ten million people are starving – partially because of a Saudi-led naval blockade that the Emirates has helped to maintain throughout much of the five-year war, preventing emergency supplies and food from reaching Yemeni civilians.

In addition, the Emirates has continuously carried out air strikes on civilian targets, including schools, hospitals and civilian residential areas.

“The Emirates is deeply involved in the blockade of Yemen. The blockade has had catastrophic consequences for the civilian population and is contributing to extensive famine because food and medicine supplies cannot enter the country,” says Trine Christensen, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Denmark.

She emphasizes that the United Arab Emirates is also responsible for a large proportion of the aerial bombardments that result in a disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Yemen.

Christensen’s assessment is shared by Professor Frederik Harhoff.

“Of course, only a court can decide whether or not what is going on in Yemen is a war crime. But it smells strongly of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he says.

Illegal arms exports

As early as 2015, Amnesty International warned that arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were in violation of international law. In 2019, a UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen created by the UN Human Rights Council, released a UN report suggesting that countries exporting weapons and military equipment to the Saudi-led coalition may be co-responsible for war crimes.

The panel concluded that arms-exporting countries are helping to prolong the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

This assessment also applies to Denmark and Danish companies exporting equipment to the warring parties, said Charles Garraway, an associate professor at the Center for Human Rights at the British University of Essex.

He was until recently a member of the UN panel of experts behind the report and closely follows developments in Yemen.

“If Denmark supplies military equipment to members of the Saudi-led coalition for use in the conflict in Yemen, then Denmark will help prolong the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people,” he told Danwatch.

This statement is backed by Muhsin Siddiquye, the country manager of the international development organization Oxfam in Yemen.

“It is a paradox that countries like Denmark support Oxfam and other humanitarian

organizations’ work in Yemen with the one hand and allow the sale of military equipment used to bomb us and prevent emergency aid from reaching,” he says.

“We understand that Denmark and Danish companies have financial interests in selling military equipment, but if all countries continue to do so, we will never stop the war,” says Muhsin Siddiquye.

Warships in action

The Emirates has participated in the Yemen war since it broke out in March 2015, but for the first time, Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse can now document that the country is using ships with Danish-produced radar equipment on board to prevent emergency aid vessels from reaching more than ten million starving Yemenites.

These actions occur as part of the heavily-criticized naval blockade of Yemen. The blockade is led by Saudi Arabia, but the Emirates has regularly participated with one or more warships equipped with the Danish Scanter 2001 radar system that Terma produces.

These systems can be seen from an overview of the ships’ equipment that the reputed military research center Jane’s Information Group has prepared.

The Emirates’ participation in the blockade is evident from a video from 2015 that Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse have detected.

The video is recorded by local Emirate TV station Aloom al-Daar and shows how the Emirate warship Al-Dhafra stops and borders a cargo ship off the coast of Yemen as part of the blockade.

Play Video

A report from the television station Aloom al-Daar shows how the Emirate corvette Al-Dhafra stops a smaller cargo ship as part of the blockade of Yemen. The footage was uploaded to YouTube on October 18, 2015.

Several other videos, as well as a number of date-stamped images from the satellite services Google Earth Pro and Terra Server, confirm the participation of Emirate warships in the blockade.

In these videos and images, Emirati warships can be seen at Assab Naval Base Eritrea, a mere 65 kilometers from Yemen.

The base serves as the Emirates’ main base in the war zone, finds a clandestine report from France’s military intelligence service, which Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse have accessed.

Satellite images show that at least one (and often several) corvettes were on base from 2016-2019.

The ships are easily recognizable because of their pointed bow and the dark helicopter landing area in the stern. Measurements of the length of the ship, made in Google Earth Pro, also confirm that these are the Baynunah corvettes with Danish radar systems on board.

DOCUMENTATION

Satellite photo of the Assab Naval Base from March 2016. The photo shows a Baynunah corvette in the lower right. The ship is recognizable by its size, its pointed bow and the dark helicopter landing pad on its stern. Photo: Google Earth Pro

Read more (in Danish): Danish radars are used to starve the Yemeni population

Spare parts delivered until October 2019

In addition to the sale of radars to the Emirates, Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse Reports can also document that Terma has continued its cooperation with the Emirate fleet until October 2019 at the earliest.

That is, Terma continued to work with the Emirate fleet for almost a whole year after Denmark imposed a ban on all arms and military equipment exports to the Emirates due to its involvement in the war in Yemen.

The ban was implemented on November 22, 2018 and remains in effect. This is confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a reply by email, stating that the ban also includes maintenance and spare parts.

“The decision is still valid and also includes applications for re-export after maintenance or exports of spare parts in connection with previous orders,” the email says.

In addition to delivering spare parts, Danwatch and TV2 learn that in February-March this year, Terma had invited a team of radar technicians from the company’s Emirate partner, Elcome, to participate in a training session at Terma’s factory in Lystrup.

According to a press release from the company, Elcome has had a contract to maintain the Scanter 2001 radars aboard the Emirate warships since January 2018.

Bombers in the war zone

Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse can also document that Terma has provided a defense system for the Emirates’ new Archangel fighter aircraft used by the Emirates Air Force in the Yemen war.

According to satellite images, several of the Archangel planes have been in the war zone from 2017 onwards.

According to Terma’s website, the aircraft is equipped with so-called MASE pods from the Danish company. It is a defense system that is mounted under the wings and protects the aircraft from attack from the ground.

Like the corvettes, several of the Emirate fighter aircraft had a continuous presence on the Assab base off the coast of Yemen from 2017 to 2018.

As a further indication that the Emirates is using the Danish-equipped bombers in the war, one of the Emirati Archangel aircraft crashed during a mission in Yemen on September 11, 2017.

The accident, in which the pilot did not survive, was covered by Emirati media and several international military experts confirmed to Danwatch that it is indeed an Archangel aircraft.

Read more (in Danish): Danish equipment protects bombers over Yemen

Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse have also discovered Emirati Archangel aircraft in several other places in the war zone.

For example, satellite images from 2018 and 2019 show the planes at the Jizan base in Saudi Arabia, small 50 kilometers from the border with Yemen.

According to Jane’s Information Group, Saudi Arabia has granted its Emirate allies the right to use Jizan as a base for Yemeni flight operations.

DOCUMENTATION

Five aircraft at Jizan base airport. According to military analysis centers, the base was handed over to the Emirates, which uses it for missions in Yemen. The aircraft’s wing profile fits with that of the Archangel aircraft which carries Danish equipment. Photo: Google Earth Pro

Ignored warnings

Shortly after the start of the war in 2015, human rights organizations warned of possible war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in Yemen.

But three and a half years passed before Denmark decided to stop all export of military equipment to the two countries.

Although the Danish ban was first implemented on November 22, 2018, both human rights organizations and legal experts believe that Terma’s deliveries of radars and defense systems should have stopped much earlier.

“For years, we, the UN and many other organizations have documented that, for example, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are committing very violent human rights violations and war crimes in Yemen,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General, Trine Christensen.

But none of the many warnings have kept Terma from providing radars and defense systems for the Emirates’ war.

The final parts for the bombers’ defense systems were delivered from Terma’s factory in Lystrup in 2018, and the last spare parts for Terma’s naval radars on the Emirati warships arrived in October 2019 – four and a half years after the start of the war.

Terma confirmed these statements in an email to Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse.

In conflict with human rights

This is in breach of Terma’s commitment to respect human rights, says Amnesty’s Secretary General.

“Companies have a clear responsibility for not contributing to human rights violations and war crimes. And that responsibility is no less serious because they are defense and radar systems, ”says Trine Christensen.

“These are supplies that are needed for the Emirates to bomb Yemen and block supplies. As the situation is in Yemen, Danish companies should not sell any kind of military equipment to the Emirates,” she says.

That assessment is backed by several international experts that Danwatch and TV2 have spoken with, including William Hartung, an expert in international arms trade and head of the American think tank Center for International Policy.

“The Danish radars are absolutely necessary for the Emirates corvettes. Without the radar systems, the Emirates warships are neither able to participate in the war in Yemen nor in the naval blockade,” he says.

According to The Yemen Data Project, about one-third of Saudi Arabian and Emirati bombings strike civilians. Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

Terma rejects criticism

For several weeks, Danwatch, TV2 and Lighthouse Reports have tried to get an interview with Terma’s CEO Jes Munk Hansen about the company’s collaboration with the Emirates and Terma’s possible co-responsibility for war crimes in Yemen.

But Jes Munk Hansen has not agreed to be interviewed. In several emails to Danwatch, Terma’s communications manager denies that the company has done anything wrong.

“Terma complies with the rules applicable at all times to trade in defense and dual-use products and follows decisions made by the Danish authorities regarding exports,” writes communications manager Kasper Rasmussen.

The term dual-use refers to equipment that can be used for both civil and military purposes.

As proof that Terma’s exports to the Emirates are legal, the company cites the permits granted to Terma by the State Police in 2015 and 2018 to export equipment to the Emirate bombers.

In regard to the radar systems, the company refers to a technical assessment that Terma has asked the Danish Business Agency to take after Danwatch and TV2 started to take an interest in the matter.

According to the technical assessment, the Thermas Scanter 2001 radar for the Emirates can neither be characterized as military equipment nor a dual-use product.

  • In February 2020, a group of journalists from Danish and Scandinavian media met at Danwatch in Copenhagen to launch a joint research collaboration on Scandinavian arms exports. 
  • The project, which is titled #ScandinavianArms, is part of a major exploratory project that maps European arms exports to conflict countries, #EUArms, which can be viewed on  EUarms.com
  • The research on Danish exports of weapons and military equipment has been carried out using publicly available sources such as satellite images, photos and videos shared on social media and, public records – so-called Open Source Intelligence methods.
  • In addition, Danwatch has sought numerous access to documents, spoken with anonymous sources and interviewed a large number of experts at home and abroad.
  • We have asked the experts to evaluate our documentation, the legality of Therma’s arms exports to the Emirates and the role of the Emirates in the Yemen war. 
  • The following Danish media have participated in collaboration: Danwatch, TV2, Berlingske and NOIR research center from Roskilde University’s Center for Investigative Journalism

Denmark violates EU rules

Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring that Terma’s military equipment exports do not violate human rights lies not only with the company but also with the Danish authorities who issue the export permits.

Several Danish and international experts, with whom Danwatch has spoken, believe that the Danish authorities have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to Terma’s exports to the Emirates.

Anna Stavrianakis, Professor of International Politics at the British University of Sussex, is an expert in arms control and closely monitors arms exports to the warring parties in Yemen.

She believes that Denmark has violated both the UN Arms Trade Treaty and the EU Common Position on Arms Exports by not intervening with Terma.

“The EU Common Position obliges Denmark to prevent the export of weapons and military equipment if there is a ‘clear risk’ that the equipment will be used for serious violations of international law,” she says.

“The UN Arms Trade Treaty speaks of an ‘imminent risk’. There is no doubt that both regulations require Denmark not to issue export permits when there is a risk of serious human rights violations. ”

Duty of effective export control

Furthermore, according to Anna Stavrianakis, there is no doubt of clear or imminent risk in this case.

“There is plenty of evidence that the Emirates’ war in Yemen is causing serious violations of international law,” she says.

Frederik Harhoff backs this criticism.

“Both the UN Arms Trade Treaty and the EU Common Position oblige Denmark to ensure that Danish military equipment, including dual-use equipment, is not used for purposes that violate international humanitarian law or gross violations of international human rights,” he says.

“Neither the National Police nor the Danish Business Authority fulfilled this obligation in this case, and thus Denmark has not fulfilled its international obligations to effectively control the export of military equipment from Denmark,” says Frederik Harhoff.

The government is silent on responsibility

Danwatch and TV2 have for weeks tried to get an interview with Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod about the criticism of Danish exports to the Emirates, but the minister has not committed to a critical stance.

In a reply to Danwatch, he does not speak directly of the case. Instead, he emphasizes that the Danish ban on exporting weapons and other military equipment to the Emirates, which was introduced in November 2018, is in force.

“My line is absolutely clear: arms and military equipment should not be exported to either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates from Denmark, as long as the products in question are in danger of being used in the Yemen conflict,” the minister writes.

He emphasizes that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs therefore does not approve new applications for the export of weapons and military equipment to the two countries when the Ministry is consulted by the National Police in export permit cases.

“This has been the line since 2018, and it continues to be,” writes Jeppe Kofod.

From Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquye urges Danish authorities to do more to counteract the cooperation between Danish companies and the Emirates military.

“Denmark must stop selling military equipment to the coalition and push them to the negotiating table instead. We can’t wait another second,” he says.

A Danwatch Investigation

The investigation divided into articles. You decide where to begin.

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