Germany approves arms sale to Saudi despite Yemen war ban promise

Germany approves arms sale to Saudi despite Yemen war ban promise
3 min read
20 September, 2018
German authorities signed off on the consignment of four artillery positioning systems, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier wrote in a letter to lawmakers, according to Reuters.

Germany announced the ban of arms sales to countries involved in the Yemen war [Getty]

Germany approved a delivery of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a government document showed on Wednesday, despite earlier reports suggesting it would stop arms sales to nations involved in the deadly war on Yemen.

German authorities signed off on the consignment of four artillery positioning systems, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier wrote in a letter to lawmakers, according to Reuters.

The weapons delivery which includes the vehicle-mounted machinery that can locate enemy fire and enables accurate counter-strikes, is the first documented one to Riyadh since March, when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition announced the ban of arms sales to countries involved in the Yemen conflict.

Spain took a similar U-turn earlier this month, after announcing it will go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns over the kingdom's leading role in the bloody conflict in Yemen, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said.

"In the end, the decision is to deliver these bombs to honour a contract dating from 2015, and was made by the previous government," Borrell said on Spain's Onda Cero radio.

Spain has come under fire from rights groups including Amnesty International for being one of the biggest exporters of arms to Saudi Arabia. The war in Yemen, in which the Saudi-led coalition has carried out many devastating attacks, is thought to have killed more than 10,000 people.

The move is a dramatic turnaround from the government who announced a week earlier that it would block delivery of the weapons - for which longtime ally Riyadh has already paid 9.2 million euros ($10.7 million).

The announcement came after an airstrike in August on a crowded market in part of northern Yemen held by Houthi rebels that killed 40 schoolchildren.

"Campaigners barely had time to welcome the news that Spain was cancelling a major arms shipment to Saudi Arabia before the government began back-pedalling to appease its wealthy customer," said Steve Cockburn, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

"We are urging the Spanish government to take a stand […] and suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition for use in Yemen."

"Any other course of action will send an unmistakable message that the Spanish government cares more about protecting its financial interests than protecting the lives of Yemeni civilians."

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and a number of other Arab countries intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after Yemeni Houthi rebels ousted President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government from the capital Sanaa and seized swathes of the country.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict since then, 2,200 of them children, and sparked what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, which could get worse.

"After more than three years of devastating civil war in Yemen - thousands of dead civilians and an ever-growing list of apparent war crimes - there is no possible excuse for Spain, or any other country, to continue to arm the Saudi Arabia-led coalition," Cockburn said.

Amnesty International said Spain is one of biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia.

Madrid signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in April to sell the Gulf Arab state five warships in a deal estimated to be worth around $2 billion.

A law approved in Spain in 2007 allows for the repeal of deals if there are "rational signs" that defence equipment could be used "for internal repression or in violation of human rights". 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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