Icelandic company Air Atlanta transported hundreds of thousands of weapons from central Europe to Saudia Arabia with license from the Icelandic authorities, RÚV reports. Amnesty International’s Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher Patrick Wilcken says the weapons end up in Syria and Yemen, where human rights violations are rampant.
“There are large quantities of weapons that have been funneled by the US through eastern European and central European states into Saudi Arabia and then in the arms pipeline are ending up on the battlefields in Syria. We’ve seen in Syria horrific human rights violations by all parties to the conflict. All states that are participating in this flow of arms need to really seriously consider the ethical and legal aspects of what this trade represents,” Wilcken told investigative reporter Ingólfur Bjarni Sigfússon, on news show Kveikur last Friday. “We’re also seeing substantial diversion of weapons going to militias and irregular armed forces in southern and eastern Yemen.”
Licensed to Transport Hundreds of Thousands of Weapons
Air Atlanta made at least 25 trips transporting weapons from Bulgaria, Serbia, and Slovakia to Saudi Arabia on the basis of a license granted by Icelandic authorities. Air Atlanta was given permission to transport weapons including 2,000 bazookas, 850,000 units of ammunition of different types, 850 powerful machine guns, 750 mortar shells, and over 170,000 landmines between the countries.
Icelandic airlines must receive authorization for arms transport from the Icelandic Transport Authority. The Transport Authority confirmed Air Atlanta had applied for a license to transport weapons, but refused to provide further information to Kveikur’s investigative team as it could adversely affect the airline’s business.
Air Atlanta does not deny their aircraft have transported weapons, but refused to provide more information. A letter from the company’s lawyer to the Transport Authority reads in part “In reference to all of the above requests, the company opposes the release of further information about its arms transport, as it could cause immeasurable damage to the company due to a breach of confidentiality against its customers.”
Against Icelandic Laws and International Agreements
Bjarni Már Magnússon, assistant professor of law at the University of Iceland, told Kveikur that transporting the weapons could be seen as breaking Icelandic laws. The transport also breaks the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which Iceland was one of the first countries to sign in 2013. According to the treaty, countries may not grant licenses for the transport of weapons which are to be used against civilians, for war crimes, or crimes against humanity. “There should have been many red flags for all states participating in this trade of the risk of onward transfer and also it’s not news that Saudi Arabia and other gulf states had been involved in funnelling weapons into Syria,” said Wilcken.
Insists Arms Transport Was Legal
The airline’s letter also states: “Air Atlanta Ltd. operates entirely within the laws and regulations which govern the company’s activities, whether concerning Icelandic law or international agreements. The company operates the basis of a flight operating license issued by the Icelandic Transport Authority, and is therefore subject to the supervision of Icelandic authorities. The company thus does not transport weapons without the knowledge and consent of the relevant authorities, as all such transport is subject to the licensing of Icelandic authorities as well as the authorities of the countries to and from which the cargo is transported.”
When applications are submitted for especially large arms shipments or transport to an area of active conflict, The Transport Authority usually consults the Ministry of Transportation before granting a license. In this case, the Ministry of Transportation says it knew nothing about the arms transport carried out by Air Atlanta, and claims it received no requests from the Transport Authority to review their application. They believe, in fact, that the Transport Authority has acted against the law.
Changes to the Process
The Icelandic government has since rejected Air Atlanta’s application for further arms transport to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says further exemptions will not be granted until a new application procedure has been put in place.
Kveikur’s investigation has led to a change in the licensing process. Since October of last year, all requests for arms transport licenses are reviewed by the Ministry of Transport. “It is because among other things Iceland is a party to this arms trade treaty, which places great emphasis on finding out where the weapons end up. It’s not just that they are moved from point A to B. Rather the focus is also on preventing them from ending up in the hands of those who are more likely to commit atrocious acts,” Bjarni Már told Kveikur.