Canada and Britain resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite human rights violations
Photo: An image of what appears to be a Canadian-made LAV captured from Saudi forces in Kitaf, northern Yemen, in August 2019.
On July 7, the British newspaper the Independent reported: “Britain is to resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite assessing that the country could be using them to commit war crimes, the government has announced.”
The Financial Times adds: “Officials will now start work on clearing the backlog of licence requests that have accumulated since the suspension in June last year.”
And Al Jazeera notes: “Opposition legislators and campaigners against the arms trade slammed the ‘morally indefensible’ decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government.”
Similarly, on April 9, The Globe and Mail reported: “[Canadian] Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the suspension of approval of new [arms export] permits for Saudi Arabia is now lifted.”
“They cited a government review made public last September to tell Ottawa it had found no credible evidence linking Canadian exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabian human-rights violations. The same report also advised the government that 48 export permits were ready to be signed should the government lift its moratorium.”
The following month, the Global Affairs Canada 2019 Exports of Military Goods report was tabled in the House of Commons.
It stated: “For the 2019 calendar year, the value of Canadian exports of controlled military goods and technology amounted to a record high of approximately $3.757 billion.” Those “military goods” included light armoured vehicles, more than 30 large-calibre artillery systems and 152 heavy machine guns sent to Saudi Arabia.
That report specifies that Canada exported close to $2.9 billion of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in 2019, which is up from $1.3 billion in 2018. As such, Canada’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia doubled after it placed a moratorium on new arms export permits following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
Mark Kersten of the Berlin-based Wayamo Foundation has commented: “I struggle to know what ‘moratorium’ means to this government, because to me, when there’s a moratorium on something, you can’t increase the sales of that thing.”
Furthermore, Cesar Jaramillo of Project Ploughshares argues: “Perhaps Ottawa’s most egregious argument for continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia is that there is no conclusive evidence that Canadian-made military exports have been misused. This is not only inaccurate but misses an essential point.”
Jaramillo notes: “There is evidence of the misuse of Canadian-made arms. In one instance in the fall of 2017, video footage emerged of a violent crackdown against Shia civilians in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province involving Canadian armoured vehicles…”
He references a Global Affairs Canada report that confirms the use of Canadian armoured vehicles in this incident but that concluded Saudi forces made “efforts to minimize civilian casualties” and that the use of force was “proportionate and appropriate.”
Jaramillo then emphasizes: “No proof of misuse is required to deny export permits under Canadian and international law. All that must be established is the risk that abuses might occur. The word ‘evidence’ does not appear once in the international Arms Trade Treaty that Canada joined last September.”
The delivery of 742 Canadian-made light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia was reportedly about 50 per cent complete this past April. There is no word yet on the status of the 48 arms export permits now ready to be signed by the Canadian government.