Germany extends Saudi arms ban over Yemen war role

Germany extends Saudi arms ban over Yemen war role
As Yemen's brutal conflict approaches its fifth year, Berlin on Monday extended an arms export ban to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition fighting rebels in the country.
4 min read
24 March, 2020
Yemen has seen thousands killed over the past five years [Getty]

Germany has extended an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia for a third time, local media reported on Monday, as concerns over the kingdom's role in Yemen's conflict continues to cause concern ahead of its fifth anniversary.

The latest extension will push back the embargo to 31 December 2020, DW reported just days before the five year anniversary of Yemen's deadly conflict.

Germany was the only European country to impose an arms sales ban on Saudi Arabia in November 2018, after the shocking killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi revealed the kingdom's involvement in the murder.

It had also pointed toward the kingdom's controversial involvement in the five-year Yemen war that has killed thousands.

However, the arms export ban that had prevented German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall from exporting armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia was annulled by a German court in December.

The court ruled against authorities, which it said had failed to follow procedures in revoking the license that had already been issued.

The license had allowed the sale of 110 vehicles to Saudi Arabia, ten of which were already delivered to the kingdom in October.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: Despite rumours, thousands test negative for coronavirus in war-torn Yemen

The court said the manner in which the export license had been revoked indicated that authorities were trying to avoid being forced to pay compensation, Reuters reported.

More than 100,000 Yemenis have been killed since the coalition intervened to reinstate the government and push back the rebels in March 2015. 

The conflict has pushed the already-impoverished state to the brink of famine and has prompted the United Nations to describe the deteriorating situation as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

As the country approaches the fifth anniversary of the brutal conflict, the Houthi rebels maintain control of the capital Sanaa and other major cities, while attempts to agree peace between the conflicting parties have not been successful.

The coalition has been widely criticised for the high civilian death toll from its air campaign, which has prompted some Western governments to cut arms deliveries to the countries taking part, though many have continued to do so.

In December, a group of human rights organisations filed a 300-page document to the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing European arms companies - including British giant BAE Systems - of being linked to war crimes in Yemen's brutal war.

The human-rights groups, including Amnesty International and Campaign Against the Arms Trade, met prosecutors in The Hague to hand over the file.

"An ICC investigation would be an historic step towards holding arms company executives accountable for their business decisions," Patrick Wilcken, Arms Control Researcher at Amnesty International, said.

"The reality is that everybody involved in selling weapons to the Saudi Arabia/UAE-led Coalition bears some responsibility for how those weapons are used. This includes company executives as well as government officials".

The dossier compiled by the rights' groups alleges that missiles, aircraft and other arms made by 10 companies "contributed to the capacity" of the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict.

The groups accused Saudi Arabia of bombing schools, hospitals and civilians in 26 strikes, which killed more than 135 civilians. Remnants of bombs made by companies in Europe were found at each of the sites.

BAE Systems is cited in the document as the principal supplier of Eurofighter Tornado and Typhoon jet aircrafts to the Saudi air force.

The UK arm of Raytheon, which manufactures Paveway IV guided missiles used in the conflict, was also mentioned.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: Financial reports expose millions of dollars in lavish UN 'corruption' budget

The dossier says that BAE Systems "purposely intended" to supply Riyadh with arms even after company bosses would have been aware of an "abundance of reporting on the violations being committed", according to The Guardian.

France's Dassault and Thales, Italy's Leonardo, and Airbus companies in Spain and Germany were also referenced in the report.

"Any company executive can read a newspaper and understand that the human rights risk assessments of some European governments have failed catastrophically," said Patrick Wilcken.

"Company executives have had ample time and access to plenty of reliable information to reassess their decisions to supply the Coalition in the light of the horrific events in Yemen. Hiding behind flawed government decision-making is not good enough - now they could face criminal charges before an international criminal court."

The UK government has since 2015 doubled the value of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been involved in a five-year bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen.

Government data showed that London licensed £5.3 million ($6.85 million) worth of arms sales to Riyadh from March 2015 until March 2019, amounting to almost a 50 percent increase on the value of arms licenses, which stood at £3.8 million ($4.8 million) prior to the Yemen conflict. 

A UK court ruled in June that it was illegal for the government to license weapons exports to Saudi Arabia without first assessing whether there was an "historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law" by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels.

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