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Rheinmetall and the law

The German arms manufacturer and automotive supplier Rheinmetall AG made negative headlines of a special kind.the group retrofitted the guns of a warship of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stationed in Eritrea. Searches of “correctiv.org” and “Stern” triggered an investigation by Lower Saxony investigators, because the country was then under a UN Embargo.

Nevertheless, the group got away without any consequences: the German technicians simply sailed into international waters, did their work there and carried out shooting exercises before the ship swam back to Eritrea. An approach that shows how simply UN arms embargoes can be circumvented.

Arms embargo against Eritrea

In 2019 reported “correctiv.org” and “Stern” citing internal e-mail messages from the defense company that Rheinmetall had already promised the UAE military in early 2017 to deliver a gun Upgrade for a warship stationed in Eritrea.

Since 2009, Rheinmetall had delivered a total of 30 MLG 27 naval guns to the Emirates, which did not happen without background noise. Eight years later, the arms company was confronted with complaints from the Emirati Navy and agreed by e-mail to equip an additional ship with an Upgrade Set. The vessel in question was based in Eritrea, where the UAE has maintained a military base in the city of Assab since 2015. A base used for the bloody war in Yemen.

However, the UN had already imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009. The sanctions were in force until November 2018 because the country had supported terrorists in neighbouring countries. Thus, Eritrea was one of the countries for which, according to the German Foreign Trade Ordinance, even the transit of arms was prohibited.

Accordingly, the establishment of the UAE military base also met with international criticism. In November 2017, the authors of an official report for the UN Security Council accused the United Arab Emirates of violating the arms embargo against Eritrea by establishing the military base. UN experts had already reached a similar conclusion in 2016: the current Embargo does not allow the expansion of the military base and the presence of foreign military equipment in Eritrea.

Rheinmetall weighed down

It can be assumed that Rheinmetall knew that an arms embargo had been imposed against Eritrea. After all, such embargoes are clearly communicated – and arms manufacturers and dealers must know who they are allowed to supply and who they are not. In addition, a Rheinmetall Manager placed an exclamation mark behind Eritrea in an e-mail message that dealt with the case in question. One seemed to be aware that the delivery could be problematic.

Nevertheless, the group incited from 2019 at the request of “correctiv.org” and “star”. A spokesman for Rheinmetall strongly rejected” insinuations " regarding Embargo violations. Make sure to” strictly observe " all regulations. “We have no reason to assume that personnel would have disregarded regulations in connection with the naval guns intended for the UAE.”

Shield citizens string and Persil ticket

The research of “correctiv.org” and “Stern” triggered preliminary investigations by the Lower Saxony public prosecutor’s office in November 2019. In December, a lawsuit was filed against managers of the group who had filed the “action outcry”. The Customs Investigation Office in Hamburg became active and examined the Rheinmetall documents relating to the business in question. At the beginning of 2020, the public prosecutor’s office finally announced the result of its investigation: “this did not lead to any concrete initial suspicion.”

So the managers of the Armament Company Get Away with it, even though they had delivered a gun Upgrade to an embargo country. The reasons being adventurous and may be referred to as a shield citizens string. According to “Stern”, the Rheinmetall managers were able to point to “all sorts of maneuvers” that would have prevented them from violating the embargo provisions. As the investigators had confirmed, one of the warships affected by the retrofitting was indeed “at a UAE military base (Assab) in Eritrea (Embargoland)”. And for the implementation of the upgrade, Rheinmetall employees were very likely “flown by the UAE Air Force directly to the Assab military base and boarded there”.

However, the ship was then"driven from the territory of Eritrea into international waters”. Only after the ship had been outside the country, the Upgrades and The Associated shooting exercises were carried out. In addition, it had an effect in favor of the Rheinmetall people that they themselves had brought no weapons material. The group had already delivered the spare parts to the Emirates with the approval of the German export office (BAFA). The ship then brought them to Eritrea in its magazine.

Although it is “logically not excluded that the paper situation does not reflect the actual circumstances”, the responsible chief prosecutor wrote to the complaining party. However, there were no” concrete indications for such a divergence”. A personal certificate for Rheinmetall.

European weapons in bloody civil war

The Persil ticket for Rheinmetall triggered in Germany in amazement. After all, there are official UN reports accusing the United Arab Emirates of violating the arms embargo against Eritrea with the military base in Assab. And the sanctions against Eritrea were also clearly set out in the relevant EU regulation. Thus, until the end of 2018, not only were arms deliveries prohibited, but also “technical assistance in connection with military activities and the provision, manufacture, maintenance and use of arms and other military equipment” were prohibited.

“And then it should be enough to retrofit the guns illegally stationed there just three nautical miles off the coast? Was that what was meant when Rheinmetall said in November that they had ‘strictly taken care’ to comply with the Embargo?“asks the “star” succinctly. The arms embargo against Eritrea has been lifted in the meantime. However, the UAE military continues to use the military base in Assab as a base for operations in Yemen, which is only 60 kilometers away. The United Arab Emirates is still expected to support mercenary troops in Yemen from Eritrea, including at least 10,000 fighters from Sudan. In addition, the Emirates maintain one of the notorious secret prisons in Assab, where people from Yemen are held without fair trial. A UN expert report speaks of “arbitrary detention and torture, including sexual violence.”

Since 2019, there has been increasing evidence of German war material being used in the Yemen war. And thanks to leaked documents from the Emirati Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, it is now clear that the United Arab Emirates is also using the base in Assab for resupply operations towards Libya. The conclusion of the “Stern”: “at least until October, the military base where this happens was under the protection of ships built in Germany – and technicians from Rheinmetall were passing through here.”