1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Amnesty slams Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia

March 23, 2018

The rights group said selling weapons to Saudis had a devastating effect on civilians in Yemen. Germany announced it would not backtrack on the sale of patrol boats to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi  F-15 fighter jet releases flares.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Amnesty International (AI) slammed the United States and Britain on Friday for their continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been militarily engaged in neighboring Yemen's three-year civil war.

The rights group said the arms sales have been an "enormous harm to Yemeni civilians" over the course of the war, adding that all of the warring factions, including the Houthi rebels backed by Iran, have violated international law.

The Houthis have been battling the internationally recognized government that is allied with the Saudi-led military coalition. Shortly after the Houthis seized control of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, the Saudi-led coalition began an aerial bombing campaign against the rebel forces.

"Three years on, Yemen's conflict shows no real signs of abating, and all sides continue to inflict horrific suffering on the civilian population," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research director. "Schools and hospitals lie in ruins, thousands have lost their lives and millions are displaced and in dire need of humanitarian aid.

"But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars' worth of such arms," Maalouf added. "As well as devastating civilian lives, this makes a mockery of the global Arms Trade Treaty."

F-15 fighter jets from the United States and British Tornadoes are among the most lethal weapons in the Saudi arsenal.

Hours before the AI report was released the German government approved the sale of eight patrol boats to Saudi Arabia despite a previously agreed export ban due to the country's involvement in Yemen’s civil war. 

Yemeni's inspect the wholesale destruction of buildings in Sanaa after Saudi-led airstrikes.
Yemeni's inspect the wholesale destruction of buildings in Sanaa after Saudi-led airstrikesImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H. Mohammed

The coalition parties in the new German government agreed during their negotiations not to sell any weapons to countries involved in the Yemen war. But a clause in the agreement exempted already approved purchases. The patrol boats fall under that clause. The previous German government was made up of the same parties in the current coalition.

World's worst humanitarian crisis

AI also criticized the Houthi rebels and other groups, accusing them of killing and injuring civilians during the war by indiscriminately bombarding residential areas.

Maalouf also accused Houthis of engaging out arbitrary arrests, detentions, forced disappearances, torture and other violations that may amount to war crimes.

The prolonged civil war has damaged Yemen's infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed much of the country it to the brink of famine.

Yemen is now the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of help. Malnutrition, cholera and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians in recent years.

Amnesty said it has documented 36 coalition air strikes since 2015 that appeared to have violated international law, adding that some of the attacks may have amounted to war crimes.

The documented attacks have killed more than 500 civilians. At least 157 of those killed were children and another 379 were wounded, AI reports.

British protesters don masks of Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to protest British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Demonstaters don masks of Theresa May and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to protest arms sales to Saudi ArabiaImage: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com

Two human rights groups in France said they would take legal action against the French government unless it ends sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates within two months.

bik/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

DW editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.