A report commissioned by Amnesty International and French human rights group ACAT has found that French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE could breach international law if these weapons are being used in the ongoing war in Yemen.
As a signatory to the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) of 2014, which was ratified by France and 88 other states in a bid to regulate international trade in conventional weapons, France is legally obligated to prevent arms sales in any situation in which its weapons will be used to violate international humanitarian law.
The report’s authors, Joseph Breham and Laurence Greig of the French law firm Ancile Avocats, stated that the study “shows a legally high risk that France’s arms transfers are contrary to its international commitments”. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has previously said that French weapons sold to Riyadh were “defensive” and condemned the “collateral damage” taking place in Yemen.
In light of ongoing involvement by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen, French arms could have been used to carry out war crimes and target the civilian population. Since the coalition first began its operations against Houthi rebels in 2015 it is estimated that 9,300 people have been killed.
The humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the conflict has left an estimated 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 7.3 million on the brink of famine. According to the 2017 Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “human rights violations and abuses are perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, throughout the country, continually”.
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), France was respectively Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s third and second biggest weapons supplier between 2013 and 2017. Both parties are known to have purchased tanks, armoured vehicles, munitions, artillery and fighter jets, according to Reuters.
Other European countries have suspended the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a bid to prevent their use in Yemen. Norway suspended arms sales to the UAE in January 2018 and was quickly followed by Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel announcing that no weapons would be supplied to countries involved in the conflict. Britain however has ignored calls by rights groups to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and has licensed about £3.3bn ($4.6 billion) of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015.