Tuesday

14th Jul 2020

Opinion

UK, France should join German Saudi arms embargo

  • Following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Germany started enforcing a complete arms embargo, triggering the ire of France and the UK, Germany's two partners in European arms projects (Photo: Campaign Against Arms Trade)

Germany's decision last month to extend its arms embargo on Saudi Arabia by six months was an important step.

The suspense was high, so strong was the combined pressure from France and the United Kingdom for Germany to end its embargo.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The issue also divided Germany's governing coalition. But in the end, Germany chose to uphold EU regulations and help spare embattled Yemeni civilians.

The warring parties in the armed conflict in Yemen, which began in March 2015, have committed numerous violations of the laws of war and contributed to what the United Nations has called the world's largest humanitarian catastrophe.

The Saudi and Emirati-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawfully indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and destroying civilian property, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others.

In March 2018, in response to coalition violations in Yemen, Angela Merkel's governing coalition announced that it would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, excluding contracts already in place.

That changed in November.

Following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Germany started enforcing a complete arms embargo, triggering the ire of France and the UK, Germany's two partners in European arms projects.

France has argued that Germany's arms export policy would undermine "the credibility of the European defence project".

After president Emmanuel Macron called the German position "demagogic" last year, French diplomats recently increased their pressure on Germany to drop its embargo.

'Biggest losers'?

British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, argued that suspending the UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia would deprive the UK of the ability to influence the Saudi coalition and that if the UK did so the people of Yemen "would be the biggest losers".

These claims are fallacious and deeply cynical.

The reality is that countries that supply weapons to the Saudi-led coalition – having known for years that they may be used in unlawful attacks - risk complicity in committing grave violations of the laws of war.

The 2008 European Union common position on arms exports, a legally-binding regional arrangement, provides that arms sales should be prohibited if there is "clear risk" that these weapons will be used to commit "serious violations of international humanitarian law."

A European political defence project would lose its credibility if it were to ignore the immense loss of civilian lives and property in Yemen to European weapons.

But despite the German government's decision to halt arms sales, loopholes remain.

The decision will not affect weapons manufactured by RWM Italia S.p.A., a subsidiary of the German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG, because it is Italy that grants the export licences in this case and not Germany.

According to human rights groups, on 8 October 2016 an alleged Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit the village of Deir Al-Hajari in northwest Yemen.

The airstrike killed six civilians, including a pregnant mother and her four children. Bomb remnants were found at the site, and a suspension lug manufactured by RWM Italia S.p.A.

This tragic case shows that the EU common position needs to be strictly and fully enforced by all EU member states.

Stopping arms exports to the parties committing serious violations of the laws of war in Yemen is the only position in line with EU obligations.

Rather than blame Germany, France and the UK should follow its lead and join other European states that have stood up for human rights.

Author bio

Benedicte Jeannerod is the France director and Wenzel Michalski is the Germany director at Human Rights Watch.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Lone Merkel declares Saudi arms ban

Germany has announced a unilateral arms ban on Saudi Arabia over its killing of a journalist, but France, the UK, and the US have not followed suit.

In Saudi Arabia, contacting the EU is a crime

Women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is facing trial. One of the allegations is contacting the EU delegation. Despite pressure from Brussels, Saudi Arabia remains unimpressed.

Macron warned on danger of Balkans veto

France's veto on North Macedonia enlargement will endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, a senior EU official has warned, but diplomats do not expect Macron to change his mind.

Italy has a responsibility, too

Little wonder the leaders of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden are unwilling to sign off: they're not going to give money so the Italians can fund a tax cut in the middle of an economic crisis.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politician accuses Spanish state of espionage
  2. EU ministers clash with Turkey over Hagia Sophia and drilling
  3. Study: EU recovery package falls short on green investment
  4. WHO: no return to normal for foreseeable future
  5. Macron wants a stronger EU in the Mediterranean
  6. Croatia opens for US tourists, defying EU ban
  7. Poll: only 61% of Germans would get Covid-19 vaccine
  8. UK to spend €788m on new UK-EU border control system

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. EU prepares response to China over Hong Kong
  2. EU to keep corporate sponsorship of presidencies
  3. 'Passengers' became 'lenders' to airlines hit by pandemic
  4. Green NGOs demand EU dumps controversial energy treaty
  5. EU Parliament considers streamlining rule-of-law tools
  6. Italy has a responsibility, too
  7. Poland's EU-battles to continue as Duda wins tight vote
  8. EU 'in-person' summit plus key data privacy ruling This WEEK

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us