French Human Rights Activists Seek to Block Saudi Arms Delivery

A French CAESAR howitzer firing in Iraq in 2018.  Saudi Arabia is reportedly set to receive a batch of the howitzers.  Source: U.S. government

French human rights activists have attempted to block the loading of French weapons onto a Saudi cargo ship docking in France today.

On May 9, 2019, the human rights group ACAT aimed to block France from loading weapons onto a Saudi vessel that is scheduled to dock the same day.  ACAT’s lawyer, Joseph Brehem, told Reuters that the organization had filed a suit, referencing the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  Referring to the treaty’s Article 6, he said, “The article says that one country cannot authorize the transfer of weapons if at the time of the authorization, the country knew that weapons could be used to commit war crimes.”

While Saudi Arabia is not party to the ATT, France ratified the treaty in 2014.  Article 6 of the treaty states,

A State Party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms covered
under Article 2 (1) or of items covered under Article 3 or Article 4, if it has
knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the
commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva
Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected
as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a

Last month, a classified French intelligence report, leaked by an investigative outlet, showed that French weapons had been utilized as part of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.  The Saudi-led military coalition has been accused of committing war crimes amid its effort to oust the rebel group Ansar Allah from the capital, Sana’a.  Riyadh, along with key coalition partner the UAE, denies the accusations.

Earlier in the week, Paris confirmed the planned delivery.  Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said that the weapons were being delivered under a contract inked in the years before.  She said, “As far as the French government is aware, we have no proof that the victims in Yemen are the result of the use of French weapons.”  French President Emmanuel Macron said that Paris had received assurances from Riyadh that the weapons would not be used against civilians.

France has not confirmed what sort of weapons will be loaded onto the vessel, the Bahri-Yanbu, which is arriving to the port of Le Havre.  It is set to depart on Friday.

Disclose, the investigative outlet that leaked the intelligence report, said this week that eight 155mm CAESAR self-propelled howitzers would be loaded onto the vessel.  The outlet previously revealed that more than 100 CAESAR howitzers would be delivered to Saudi Arabia between 2019 and 2023.  Disclose has also said that Saudi Arabia is to receive armored vehicles and light guns from France.

A government source denied that CAESARs would be included in this week’s delivery, Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency reported.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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