France and the United Kingdom are maintaining pressure on Germany to dissuade it from complying with its decision on a six-month freeze on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
The European Union has very clear rules about arms exports, but Germany is the only country that has used these rules to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a decision that has provoked a wave of criticism from European companies and societies as well as from European states that pose themselves as human rights defenders.
Under the European Union’s laws on arms exports, European countries will have to stop selling arms immediately if the import of arms to a third country is likely to violate international humanitarian laws.
In addition to all the reports on Saudi Arabia’s violation of human rights in Yemen, there is a report, published in October 2016 by several human rights groups, which describes a Saudi coalition air strike against the village of Deir al-Hajari as a “serious violation of international humanitarian laws”. This report alone is sufficient for the European Union to order the suspension of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi strike on the village of Deir al-Hajari caused a large number of civilian casualties, including children and pregnant women.
However, all the reports on the violation of human rights in Yemen by the Saudi coalition, although they have multiplied over time, have not been sufficient to reach such a decision.
Finally, it was the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis that prompted the Germans to temporarily suspend their arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the grounds of concern over “Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflicts in Yemen” and the “murder of journalists”. The freeze has just been extended for six months.
In the first months of 2018, Germany sold some half a billion weapons to Saudi Arabia, many of which were used against the Yemeni population.
The Hill website reveals that Berlin’s decision to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia has triggered serious disputes between Germany and its European partners. At the heart of these disputes was the latest hunter Eurofighter.
London demanded in particular that Berlin lift the ban on deliveries to Saudi Arabia of Eurofighter and Tornado fighters manufactured as part of joint European projects, claiming that Germany is blocking exports worth billions of euros.
In the aftermath, Airbus removed German parts from its military aircraft to continue exporting to Saudi Arabia.
Germany was so impressed by Jamal Khashoggi’s murder that it even changed course with regard to the conflicts in Yemen: it finally decided to send a shipment of humanitarian aid to war-affected civilians in Yemen.
However, this positive change of course has not been welcomed by France, which believes that the freezing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia weakens and discredits the European defence project.
French President Emmanuel Macron accuses German officials of “dogmatism” while all these protests aim to hide another reality: by freezing its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Berlin has stopped the production lines of weapons that were produced as part of a joint Franco-German-British project. Hence the increased pressure from London and Paris to convince Berlin to review its decision, especially since these pressures are largely supported by the Saudi lobby.
France and the United Kingdom must finally accept that the decision taken by Berlin is a legal and humane one and that the pressure they keep putting on their German partner will seriously undermine everything they have said and claimed so far on respect for human rights.