Following the one-year anniversary of Canada’s accession to the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a coalition of civil society organizations are calling on Canada to end weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. This follows a recent report by the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, which specifically names Canada as one of the countries “perpetuating the conflict” in Yemen through ongoing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
“Canada has now been publicly shamed in front of the international community for its ongoing weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia, while the devastating war in Yemen rages on,” said Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada. “Legal obligations under the ATT have not deterred this government’s unrelenting support for weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. It has ignored the groundswell of civil society opposition to these exports. Hopefully, the UN’s report will provoke a different response.”
The ATT is an international treaty that governs the arms trade. It requires states party to assess weapons exports in order to determine if there is a risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law. It also prohibits weapons exports where there is a “substantial risk” that it would undermine peace and security. Canada has been a state party to the ATT for one year, and is legally bound by the treaty.
In 2019, the value of Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia more than doubled, increasing from almost $1.3 billion dollars in the previous year to almost $2.9 billion dollars last year. They now account for over 75% of Canada’s non-US military exports. Canada’s pledged humanitarian aid for Yemen, 40 million dollars, pales in comparison.
“Continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia, a country where women and other vulnerable or minority groups are systemically oppressed, also undermine Canada’s commitment to a feminist foreign policy, and go against the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which Canada endorsed in 2011,” said France-Isabelle Langlois, Executive Director of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone.
Moreover, in April 2020, the government announced plans to create an arms-length advisory panel of experts, and to spearhead an international effort on the establishment of an inspections regime. Despite multiple inquiries by civil society organizations about these plans, no further information has been provided.