Human rights groups cheer Spain for cancelling bombs sale to Saudi Arabia

"These kind of weapons have been used in alleged war crimes," says Alberto Estevez of Spain's Arms Control Coalition.

Canada still has a $15B deal to sell light armoured vehicles to the Saudis

A man transports a child to a hospital after he was wounded in a Saudi airstrike on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels' stronghold province of Saada on Aug. 9, 2018. - (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
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Human rights organizations are cheering the Spanish government's decision to revoke an agreement to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, and calling on other countries to follow suit.

Spain said Tuesday it has cancelled the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs purchased by Saudi Arabia amid fears that the weapons could threaten the lives of civilians in the Saudi-led war against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"Our assumption is that the new Spanish government saw the link between those bombs and the likely misuse of those weapons in the war in Yemen," Alberto Estevez of Spain's Arms Control Coalition, an umbrella group that includes NGOs like Greenpeace and Amnesty International, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"These kind of weapons have been used in alleged war crimes in, in attacks to markets, hospitals, schools and the likes, which are clear violations of international humanitarian laws and the laws of war."

The move comes a month after dozens of children on a school bus were killed in a Saudi airstrike in Saada

The arms deal was originally signed in 2015 under Spain's former conservative government, but the new socialist administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez plans to return the 9.2 million euros ($24 million Cdn) already paid by the Saudis, Cadena SER radio reported on Tuesday.

A Spanish defence ministry spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press and Reuters that the arms deal had been halted, but declined to comment further. The Saudi embassy in Madrid did not immediately respond to emailed questions and follow-up calls.

Canadian armoured vehicles

The Saudi-led war is backed by western governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which supply the country with weapons.

Canada has approved a $15-billion deal to export Ontario-made armoured vehicles, including "heavy assault" models to the Kingdom

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have denounced Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies in a war the United Nations says has killed more than 10,000 people, including children, and left 8.4 million on the brink of famine.

The UN says the conflict in Yemen has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people in desperate need in what was already the Arab world's poorest country. 

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Stefano Maron​ told As It Happens the federal government is "committed to ensuring that human rights, peace and security are central to arms exports."

"Canada remains deeply concerned by the conflict in Yemen, which has had a devastating impact on civilians, particularly women and children, who continue to bear the brunt of the fighting," Maron​ said in an emailed statement.

"Since the beginning of the war in 2014, thousands of civilians have been killed as a result of violence, disease or famine. Restoring peace to the country is as urgent as ever.‎"

Global Affairs sent As It Happens the exact same statement in August, but attributed to a different spokesperson, in response to a story about a Canadian arms deal with Ukraine

Yemenis walk past rubble after deadly airstrikes in and near the presidential compound, in Sanaa, Yemen, on May. 7. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

He pointed to the Liberal government's decision to have Canada join the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty and amend its legislation to prevent "the export of a controlled good if there is a substantial risk that it could be used to commit human rights violations.‎"

But despite these legislative changes — and a recent diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia over the imprisonment of human rights activists — the armoured vehicle deal stands. 

In this promotional image, taken by the Canadian Forces and hosted on the General Dynamics website, General Dynamics Land Systems Canada Lav 6 vehicles like the ones being sold to Saudi Arabia are shown carrying troops. (Combat Camera/General Dynamics)

Estevez said Canada has no assurance the Kingdom won't use the armoured vehicles against civilians. 

"What is missing is a legally binding commitment by the Saudi authorities not to attack the civilian population and misuse of these kind of weapons in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law," he said.

A UN experts committee urged the international community last month to refrain from providing arms that could be used in the Yemen conflict — a position echoed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

"There's a clear need to put an end to these sales because after three and a half years in Yemen, there have been over 18,000 strikes by the Saudi local coalition and one out of three of those strikes were to a non-military target," Estevez said, citing statistics from the Yemen Data Project, an independent monitoring group.

"It's clear that the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia is flouting international law and there's a need to hold them to account."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press and Reuters. Interview with Alberto Estevez produced by Kevin Robertson. 

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