NGOs urge France to give parliament control over arms sales

·2-min read

Fourteen of the world’s top human rights and humanitarian organisations have called on the French government to “end France’s opacity on arms sales”, ahead the publication of a parliamentary fact-finding report on arms export control to be published on 18 November.

In a joint press release, co-signed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights FIDH, Oxfam, and local organisations such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights and Salam for Yemen say that parliamentary control is “essential since French arms sales have been shown to be responsible for certain serious violations of humanitarian law, particularly in Yemen, where those violations have dramatic consequences for the civilian population.

In December 2018, the Foreign Affairs Committee of France’s Parliament created a fact-finding mission on arms export control, headed by MPs Michèle Tabarot and Jacques Maire, as a result of public opinion and NGO mobilisation against French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “likely to be used illegally against civilians in Yemen.”

French weapon sales to Saudi Arabia were first exposed to the public by the investigative website Disclose, in a report “Made in France.”

War in Yemen

Based on leaked documents of the French Military Intelligence (DRM), Disclose mapped out the scale of French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the impact the had in the war in Yemen and concluded that the extensive use of French-made Leclerc tanks and Cesar howitzers contributed to the death of dozens of civilians between 2016 and 2018.

The 14 NGO’s argue that France is an exception among western democracies as its Parliament has no ability to exercise real control over arms sales carried out by the Executive, unlike the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, where parliamentary control over arms sales is in place.

Top three arms importers

They also point out that in 2019 Saudi Arabia was among the top three countries that imported the most French arms, while the United Arab Emirates ordered a record number of French arms.

“And this despite their alleged responsibility for serious and repeated violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen,” the group says. As a result, “80% of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid. This is a preventable tragedy.”

"If Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have suspended some arms contracts to Riyadh, it is not only because of the war in Yemen, but also because they have put in place a democratic control mechanism that allows civil society to be heard by the rulers,” says Tony Fortin, Research officer at the Paris-based Armaments Observatory, one of the co-signatories of the letter.

“Such a system does not exist in France. We must seize the opportunity provided by the Maire-Tabarot report to (finally!) make progress on the subject. This implies questioning the predominant place given to the executive power and the military logic in our society,” he says.