Exporting Arms to Saudi Arabia Makes a Sham of Ottawa’s Human Rights Record

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Publish Date : 09/03/2021 0:01
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Canadian law bans the sale of weapons where there is a risk they will be misused. Saudi forces are fighting in the civil war in Yemen, and are the chief instigator of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

“The fact of the matter is Canada is arming one of the worst human-rights violators on the planet,” said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares. His comments follow the release of a report by Project Ploughshares, which is based at Conrad Grebel University in Waterloo, and Amnesty International that says the weapons sales violate domestic laws and international treaties. The arms exports should be stopped immediately and are inconsistent with Canada’s claim to support human rights, says the report.


“Canadian law bans the sale of weapons where there is a risk they will be misused. Saudi forces are fighting in the civil war in Yemen, and are the chief instigator of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.” Said Jaramillo. “In our view there is a clear and present risk that Saudi Arabia, which is one of the worst human rights violators on the planet will misuse Canadian weapons, indeed they have,” said Jaramillo.


In February 2014 then-Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at $14.8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The contract runs for 14 years. The arms deal started under the Conservatives, but the Liberals continued to export weapons even after Saudi intelligence agents brutally killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. “In response to the murder, Canada suspended the approval of new arms export permits for (Saudi Arabia) in November 2018. However, this suspension did not affect permits already approved,” says the report. In 2019, Canada sold $3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Despite global pressure after the killing, in April 2020 the Canadian government lifted its freeze on weapons export permits to Saudi Arabia after a review, saying it had a robust system in place to ensure such permits meet Canada’s requirements under domestic law and the ATT.


A spokeswoman for Canada’s foreign affairs department, Global Affairs Canada, told Al Jazeera that the government “is committed to a rigorous arms export system”. “Canada has one of the strongest export controls systems in the world, and respect for human rights is enshrined in our export controls legislation,” Lama Khodr said in an emailed statement. But for years, Canadian civil society groups have urged the federal government to cancel existing weapons contracts with Saudi Arabia and suspend all future permits, arguing that the arms could be used in rights violations both inside the [Persian] Gulf nation and in Yemen.


In a report following that review, Canada said “there is no substantial risk” that military goods, including LAVs, “would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of [international humanitarian law] in Yemen”.
Canadian weapons exports to Saudi Arabia totalled $1.05bn ($1.31bn Canadian) in 2020, according to government figures. That was second only to the US and accounted for 67 percent of Canada’s total non-US arms exports.


The ongoing war has pushed millions to the brink of famine in what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and at least 233,000 people have died, according to a recent UN estimate. A United Nations panel of experts on Yemen has said “the provision of weapons to any of the conflict parties in Yemen is facilitating the conflict itself and potential war crimes.”



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“ Exporting Arms to Saudi Arabia Makes a Sham of Ottawa’s Human Rights Record ”