Following the recent Saudi Arabia airstrikes which have left 20 million people in Yemen needing humanitarian aid, pressure has been mounting from MEP’s to ban arms sales to the Gulf state. Leaders of political groups across Europe are calling to ban sales claiming that the EU is breaching the 2008 common code on military exports.
The EU code on arms exports details grounds where countries should refuse an arms export license. Some of these grounds include respect for the obligations of international organizations, like the UN. EU member states must show “special caution and vigilance” when issuing licenses to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the UN or other bodies.
The UN has already described Yemen as the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis and is investigating human rights violations committed on both sides of the civil war. Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign began in March 2015, and has killed over 4000 civilians. 58 of the airstrikes, which have killed over 800 civilians, have been documented as unlawful by Human Rights Watch.
Airstrikes have hit civilian areas, including homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and busy markets, and it’s been reported that some of the attacks might amount to war crimes. They include airstrikes on a busy market in northern Yemen on March 15 that killed 97 civilians, including 25 children, and another on a crowded funeral in Sanaa in October that killed over 100 civilians.
According to the most recent EU arms export report, 17 EU states sold arms to Saudi Arabia in 2015, with France and the UK issuing the highest number of licenses. The UK issued licenses to Saudi Arabia worth €3.3bn, and Frances licenses were worth €16.9bn. Seven EU countries refused to export arms to the state, although the names of the countries and the reason for refusal were not noted in the report.
A letter issued to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini from political groups states that “It is our view that any such [arms] exports to Saudi Arabia are in direct violation of at least criterion two of the common position in regard to the country’s involvement in grave breaches of humanitarian law as established by competent UN authorities.”
Mogherini can choose to put this issue on the EU agenda, but only if there is a good chance of success. A spokesperson said that “The final decision whether to authorise or deny an export remains at national discretion of member states. Decisions on issuing an arms embargo lie fully with the council [of foreign ministers]; deciding an arms embargo would require political agreement by unanimity within the council.”
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