Thursday

21st Jan 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

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.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines
  2. Russia files for Sputnik vaccine registration in EU
  3. Destruction and three deaths in Madrid explosion
  4. Liberals kick out Lithuanian MEP for homophobic jibes
  5. Air pollution killing thousands of Europeans a year
  6. First migrant tragedy of 2021 claims 43 lives
  7. Train revival needed to meet EU climate goals
  8. NGOs shame Monaco for persecuting UK whistleblower

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Italy's return to statism spells trouble for the eurozone

There are profound questions about whether the windfall of cash from the EU coronavirus recovery fund will truly help Italy recover or whether it will cause more problems than it solves, for Rome and the rest of the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  2. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?
  3. Turkish minister in Brussels to discuss new migrant deal
  4. EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates
  5. On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice
  6. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  7. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  8. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us