A new report from a collective of investigative journalists raises serious questions about the French government's culpability for atrocities committed in Yemen.
"To my knowledge, French weapons are not being used in any offensive in the war in Yemen. I do not have any evidence that would lead me to believe that French arms are behind the origins of civilian victims in Yemen," insisted French Defence Minister Florence Parly on a French radio show yesterday, despite fresh accusations to the contrary.
Earlier this week, French NGO, Disclose (a collective of investigative journalists), released a comprehensive 15-page paper citing a leaked report from French military intelligence agency DRM highlighting the use of different French weaponry likely used against civilians in Yemen.
The report dates back to the end of September last year and reveals the use of French-made CAESAR guns, artillery, tactical canons, tanks, ships, and fighter-bomber jets. And as such, this gives us evidence, that the probability of the use of French arms in civilian deaths as highly probable.
The report adds to this that all the information was presented to President Macron and his office on 3 October 2018 – including Foreign Minister and Minister for European Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Florence Parly, at a Defence Council meeting.
Parly later denies negotiating new deals with the Saudi-coalition, however, the report also cited a contract signed in December between Saudi Arabia and French government-owned weapons manufacturer Nexter Systems to deliver new armoured vehicles between 2019 and 2024.
To understand the extent of the damage and the potential damage that may come to pass, specifically noted in the DRM report, through the use of CAESAR weaponry alone, “The population concerned by potential artillery fire is 436,370 people.”
The report also deduced that “This showed that between March 2016 and December 2018, a total of 35 civilians were killed in 52 bombardments localised within the range of the CAESARs.”
The report while making no grand claim points to worrying facts that certainly must be addressed by the highest levels of the French government.
France, like many EU countries, is a signatory of the UN Arms Trade Treaty that regulates the international trade of conventional weapons and bans the sale of weapons that fuel human rights violations and war crimes – it, however, is also the third largest weapons exporter in the world.
This reveals that at the very least there is a reason for a serious investigation, and until then, an arms embargo with Saudi Arabia and its Yemen coalition, until the inquiry is complete.
The UN has also unequivocally stated that war crimes have likely been committed by all parties in the Yemeni war.
For the French, in 2018, the highest arms sales recorded were to Egypt – which too has come under much public scrutiny due to the country’s alarming rate of human rights abuses. Macron responded that he did not deem it fit to lecture Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi on the matter.
In January, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying “The French authorities contend that they have only licensed military equipment as part of the “fight against terrorism” in Egypt and not for law enforcement operations. But as recent reports by Amnesty International and FIDH have demonstrated, French-supplied armoured vehicles were used by Egyptian security forces to disperse peaceful sit-ins across the country violently.
Amnesty International noted, “French vehicles were not merely assisting the security forces, but were themselves tools of repression, playing a very active role in the crushing of dissent."
Despite this, there is no halt in sales.
The hypocrisy of Macron’s government is echoed elsewhere such as the United States, another large arms exporter to their partner Saudi Arabia. To formulate his position, Donald Trump said, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States. You know what they are going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else.”
This statement, of course, does not hold much merit as an army’s arsenal takes years to gather and Chinese and French weapons are not exactly compatible. What would result, however, is a deadlock in arms entering Yemen.
This past Tuesday Trump used a Presidential veto against a bill to end support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, showing the world that he is entirely indifferent to any war crimes being committed through the use of American weaponry.
However, these countries may yet learn from the principles of Germany, while far from a saint, they still managed to embargo arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey last year.
Other domestic affairs may cloud these severe accusations in France and the US, however, the consequences of these political and economic decisions are violence, destruction and death. Due to the mass profiteering at play here, there is little will to influence change these decisions at a high enough level.
There is a small hope that citizens will put pressure on their governments to cease all dealings with the Saudi-coalition and follow the example set by Germany – a small hope indeed.
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