Saudi Arabia: Five years into the war in Yemen, human rights organisations welcome Germany’s decision to extend its arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and encourage others to follow suit
ALQST, ACAT-France, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and MENA Rights Group have welcomed Germany’s decision to extend its arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and call on other governments to follow suit, as the Yemen war marks its fifth year. Furthermore, the organisations urge the German authorities to expand it by including the prohibition of the export of spare parts and components and by suspending arm sales to all parties to the conflict.
On 23 March 2020, the German Security Council decided to renew the suspension of export licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which was set to expire on 31 March, for a third time until the end of September 2020. This means that the German government will neither issue new export licenses to Saudi Arabia, nor deliver any arms to the Kingdom based on existing licenses. Yet this decision does not exclude exemptions for German component deliveries within the framework of European joint projects, including components for European Typhoons.
In March 2018, the German government coalition agreed to stop arms exports for all countries "directly" involved in the Yemen war. However, the full suspension of arms supplies to Saudi Arabia was only implemented after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October 2018. While the moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia has been in place since then, the government continued to approve export licenses to other countries involved in the war in Yemen, such as the UAE.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition supporting the internationally-recognised Yemeni government in a military operation against the Houthi armed group, who took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in 2014. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks fatalities in the conflict, the cumulative number of fatalities passed the 100,000 mark in 2019, including over 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks.
In Yemen, which the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the vast majority of the population require humanitarian assistance and millions are on the verge of starvation. Yemen also experienced the worst outbreak of cholera in modern history, with more than a million suspected cases, and faces this year the deadly COVID-19 virus, which could spread widely due to a lack of proper healthcare facilities, much of which has been damaged or destroyed during the conflict.
In its latest report, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen found that Saudi/UAE-led Coalition attacks have repeatedly struck areas densely populated by civilians, such as residential areas and markets. Coalition air strikes also notably destroyed critical civilian infrastructure such as farmland, water facilities, hospitals, schools and essential port infrastructure, which are indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Moreover, Coalition Forces have imposed a de facto naval blockade on Yemen and closure of Sana’a International Airport since August 2016, and have gravely impeded the import of vital relief supplies, including food, medicine and fuel. The Group of Eminent Experts found the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition responsible for serious breaches of international humanitarian law, many of which may amount to war crimes.
Over the past five years, the United Nations and nongovernmental organisations have documented hundreds of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians. In light of the extensive documentation of serious violations of international humanitarian law, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an EU-wide ban on the export, sale, update and maintenance of any form of military and security equipment to Saudi Arabia, as well as the export of surveillance technology that is used to spy on and imprison human rights defenders and online activists, in an attempt to stop them from reporting on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the region. It is critical for states to take measures to demonstrate their opposition to these violations of international law. Establishing a moratorium on arms sales is a clear way of doing so.
While we welcome the decision by the German government to extend its arms embargo to Saudi Arabia, we urge the authorities to expand it by including the prohibition of the export of spare parts and components for joint EU projects, where there is a major risk they will be used to commit or facilitate violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This includes components for European Typhoons, fighter jets which are routinely used to carry out coalition air strikes. In order to pursue a comprehensive and effective policy on Yemen, Germany must also implement a strict suspension of arm sales to all parties to the conflict.
Moreover, we are calling on all governments to stop the export of surveillance technology to the kingdom, and to join Germany in establishing a moratorium on arms exports to Saudi Arabia until it halts unlawful attacks, conducts credible investigations into alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law by its forces and forces under its control, and provides appropriate redress to civilian victims.
We believe this would send a strong message about the paramount importance of protecting civilian lives as we mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Yemen.
ACAT - France
ALQST for Human Rights
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
MENA Rights Group