Finnish activists challenge arms exports to conflict areas

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A poster from the Finnish campaign against arms exports.
A poster from the Finnish campaign against arms exports.

For the past few years, the Finnish arms trade has been changing. Data compiled by the peace and security think-tank SaferGlobe shows that the largest export region used to be the European Union, since 2015 the top position has been taken by Middle Eastern countries. Three major trade deals play a significant role in the increase: grenade launchers were exported to the United Arab Emirates in 2014–2016 and to Saudi Arabia in 2014–2015, and armoured modular vehicles (AMVs) were exported to the United Arab Emirates in 2016. In addition, other military materials such as sniper rifles, ammunition and armoured steel have been exported to Middle East.

Finnish peace organisations the Peace Union of Finland and the Committee of 100 in Finland have been campaigning against the Finnish arms trade for years. However, the growing numbers of trade deals with countries waging war and engaged in human rights abuses have reinvigorated the campaigning and the public debate about Finnish arms exports. As well as as the Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - which have been at war in Yemen since 2015 - importers have also included Turkey.

Patria AMVs in Yemen

In November 2015, the majority state-owned company Patria received a permit for the export of 40 AMVs to the Arab Emirates. The Peace Union and the Committee of 100 demanded the revocation of the permit, drawing attention to the fact that the Emirates was a member of the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen. The situation in Yemen was known to be a humanitarian disaster, and the Saudi-coalition was accused of humanitarian war crimes in their operations. The question was also raised at the Finnish parliament, but the permit was not cancelled.

In January 2018, Patria’s export permit to the Emirates was extended. Within days of the announcement, a Norwegian newspaper called Verdens Gang published an article about a video showing these AMVs used in the war in Yemen. After Yle, the national broadcasting service, broke the news in Finnish, Patria confirmed the vehicles as their product. Although the use of Finnish arms in Yemen did not come as a surprise to the peace activists and researchers who had been monitoring the situation, the case made the problems of arms exports visible to the wider public. This has allowed anti-arms trade campaigning to gather momentum.

The Peace Union and the Committee of 100 have filed a complaint with the Chancellor of Justice to find out whether or not Patria has been granted the permit lawfully. The question was also debated in the parliament, and the Foreign Affairs committee of the parliament has also heard from the SaferGlobe think-tank on the issue. The issue has also raised alarm in the wider Finnish civil society: Amnesty International Finland has started a petition to end arms exports to warring parties in Yemen, Save the Children Finland has taken up the issue in their advocacy work and the youth network of the Finn Church Aid, Changemaker, has filed a complaint with the European Commission.

While the development of the Finnish arms trade is worrying, the increased attention to it by politicians, in the media and by civil society is positive. Currently peace activists are coordinating with other organisations to put more pressure on the government to change their arms export permit policies. Critical discussion of arms trade is now livelier and that creates potential for change.

Author information

Minna Vähäsalo works for the Finnish organisation Sadankomitea (Committee of 100).

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About the authors

Minna Vähäsalo works for the Finnish organisation Sadankomitea (Committee of 100).