Global Affairs Canada Report on Saudi Exports Puts Economic Benefits Before Human Rights

A coalition of Canadian civil society organizations is deeply dismayed that Global Affairs Canada claims it has found “no credible evidence” linking Canadian exports of military equipment to human rights violations committed by Saudi Arabia.
On 17 September 2019, the day Canada formally acceded to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the Deputy Ministers of International Trade and Foreign Affairs signed off on a redacted memorandum which indicates that, while Saudi Arabia’s overall human rights record remains “problematic,” federal officials “did not identify any existing permits or pending applications that would be of concern under the standard robust risk assessment framework.”
GAC appears to have concluded that, because it could not identify any credible evidence linking prior Canadian exports to contraventions of international law, future arms exports do not pose a substantial risk of being used to commit such crimes.  This leap in logic is not supported by any evidence in the unredacted portions of the memo.  Alarmingly, the report is entirely dismissive of the findings of the United Nations Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen report, which confirmed that over the past five years, the conflict in Yemen has given rise to a multitude of war crimes. Importantly, the report specifically raises concerns about the involvement of parties to the Arms Trade Treaty in perpetuating the conflict, characterizing ongoing transfers by Arms Trade Treaty parties as “questionable.”

The memo notes that a further 48 permit applications for controlled exports to Saudi Arabia have been deemed ready for approval, which means the ball is now squarely in Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s court. Under the law, he must consider whether these exports would undermine peace and security, or could be used to facilitate serious violations of international law. Moreover, Article 6 of the Arms Trade Treaty contains an absolute prohibition on transfers where there is knowledge that the weapons would be used to commit attacks against the civilians or civilian objects – the very acts which have taken place regularly in the conflict in Yemen. With the death toll in this war reportedly surpassing 100,000 last month, we think the answer should be more than clear. – Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada.
“The Canadian government says there is no evidence that previously exported Canadian material was used to commit war crimes or serious violations of international humanitarian law. There is therefore no significant risk that Canadian material will be used in such crimes in the future. This is an extremely narrow and erroneous interpretation of the ATT. There is ample evidence that a wide variety of Saudi military equipment has been systematically used in fighting in Yemen, in violation of IHL. There is therefore a significant risk that Canadian equipment will be used in the same way. Having joined the ATT, Canada must now indicate whether it will become a leader in strengthening global arms control and reducing human suffering through stricter standards of IHL compliance.” Anne Duhamel, Director of Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam-Québec.
“Despite heavy redactions and crucial omissions, the memorandum paints a grim, troubling picture of Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record, both within its borders and in neighbouring Yemen. It specifically acknowledges grave human rights violations, such as unlawful killings, including executions for non-violent offenses, as well as restrictions on women’s rights and basic freedoms. It further acknowledges “gross violations” of international human rights and humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in the context of the Yemen conflict. In fact, the memorandum makes a strong case for the immediate cancellation of Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia, yet it disconcertingly reaches the opposite conclusion and lays the groundwork for Canada’s continued complicity with a known human-rights pariah. This review constituted a major test of Canada’s promises of increased rigour around the arms trade since it joined the international Arms Trade Treaty in September—and it is failing miserably.” – Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director, Project Ploughshares.


Amnesty International Canada (English branch)

Lucy Scholey, Media Officer, 613-744-7667 ext. 236,

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Thomas Woodley, President, 438-380-5410;


Camille Garnier, Public and Media Relations, 514-513-0506,

Project Ploughshares

Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director, 519-888-6541 ext. 24302.
Ken Epps, Senior Advisor on the Arms Trade,

The Rideau Institute

Peggy Mason, President, (w) 613 565-9449 ex.24, (c) 613 612-6360,