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Open Letter to Minister Stephane Dion on the sale of Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia

    March 01, 2016

    The Honourable Stéphane Dion
    Minister of Foreign Affairs

    March 1, 2016

    Dear Minister Dion,

    We are writing this Open Letter to you further to ongoing correspondence we have had with the Canadian government over the past year with respect to the sale of Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs), manufactured in Canada, to Saudi Arabia. In particular, thank you for your letter of February 11th in response to our letter of January 15th which had been sent jointly with Cesar Jaramillo, the Executive Director of Project Ploughshares.

    Minister, as you are aware Amnesty International has been deeply concerned about the potential human rights impact of the sale of LAVs, reported to be in the range of $15 billion. Since news of the deal first came to our attention, over one year ago, we have consistently pressed the government to ensure that a full and comprehensive human rights assessment be conducted and that the results of that assessment be released publicly. No such information has yet to be made public.

    At this time, in the face of mounting and deeply troubling evidence that the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition conducting military operations in Yemen is still failing to take feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects, we are now writing with an urgent request that you suspend authorization of the sale of the Light Armoured Vehicles. That is in keeping with a worldwide appeal we have made to all governments not to sell or transfer arms or weapons to any of the parties to the conflict in Yemen. It is also consistent with Canada’s obligation, which you underscored in your recent letter to us, “to ensure that exports from Canada … do not contribute to national or regional conflicts or instability [and] are not used to commit human rights violations…”

    On 25 March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the Huthi armed group which had taken over large parts of Yemen and overthrown the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. Amnesty International has documented cases of civilian casualties throughout the conflict and continues to gather mounting evidence of violations of international humanitarian law, including systematic violations. Since 25 March 2015, nearly 3,000 civilians, including at least 700 children, have been killed, and 5,659 wounded. Approximately 2.5 million people have been displaced.

    The majority of civilian deaths have resulted from airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Amnesty International has documented 30 airstrikes since the start of the conflict in March 2015 that appear to have been unlawful in that coalition forces deliberately targeted civilian objects, disproportionately harmed civilians and civilian objects in relation to the expected military gain from the strike, or failed to distinguish between these and military objectives. Those attacks resulted in 366 civilian deaths and 272 injuries. These airstrikes have targeted civilian objects such as hospitals, schools, markets and mosques. Some of these attacks amount to war crimes.

    In addition to the air bombardment, civilians have been killed or injured during ground fighting between the Huthi armed group and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (Huthis/Saleh loyalists), and anti-Huthi Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), who have all carried out indiscriminate attacks using mortars, rocket propelled grenades and artillery. Armed groups involved in ground fighting in Aden and Ta’iz have engaged in indiscriminate attacks and reckless conduct, killing, harming and endangering civilian residents as they have battled each other for control of the two cities. 

    All sides in the conflict also appear to have committed serious human rights violations and abuses. The Huthi armed group and allied forces are also endangering the lives of thousands of civilians in the southern city of Ta’iz by blocking the entry of crucial medical supplies and food over the past three months. Most of the city’s hospitals have shut down, and the few that remain open are on the verge of collapse due to a lack of supplies. All routes into and out of Ta’iz are controlled by the Huthi armed group and their allies and residents are effectively trapped within an enclave of Ta’iz, without access to basic necessities.

    Parties to an armed conflict have an obligation, under international humanitarian law, to take feasible precautions to spare civilians. Precautions include giving effective advance warning of attacks which may endanger the civilian population, cancelling or suspending an attack if it becomes clear that it is likely to cause excessive civilian casualties or damage, and choosing means and methods of attack that minimize the risk to civilians and civilian objects. Failure to take such precautions can lead to indiscriminate attacks, a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

    In light of the many credible reports detailing incidents that indicate a pattern of serious violations of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) by all the parties to the conflict in Yemen, and their failure to take effective measures to prevent further violations, conduct independent and impartial investigations and bring the perpetrators to justice, Amnesty International is calling on all governments, including the Canadian government, to:

     Immediately halt transfers of arms for use by the parties to the conflict in Yemen to ensure that no weapons, munitions, military equipment or technology, or logistical and financial support for such transfers, are supplied directly or indirectly to any party to the conflict in Yemen, or in support of military operations in Yemen;

     Maintain a full cessation of all arms transfers as described above (arms embargo) on the parties to the conflict in Yemen as long as there is a substantial risk that the arms would be used for serious violations of IHL or IHRL;

     Ensure full respect for this embargo on Yemen by requiring that any potential arms transfer to a member of the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition or any other state involved in the Yemen conflict is
    only considered if those arms are clearly intended for lawful use outside Yemen, and if the exporting and importing states first conclude a binding agreement to guarantee the arms will not be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of IHL or IHRL;

     Support the expansion of the UN arms embargo established under Resolution 2216 to prohibit the direct or indirect supply of weapons, munitions, military equipment or technology, or logistical and financial support for such supplies, to any party to the conflict in Yemen, or in support of their military operations in Yemen, as long as a substantial risk remains that such arms would be used to commit serious violations of international law;

     Establish an independent international mechanism to investigate alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict since the beginning of hostilities in September 2014, with a view to ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials and full reparation is provided for victims and their families.

    As a result, we are calling on the Canadian government to suspend the $15 billion multi-year deal to sell Light Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia. As the conflict in Yemen has continued and intensified, we have become increasingly concerned that the LAVs transferred in previous years could be used to support ground attacks. Images posted on social media by the Saudi Arabian National Guard (but not verified by Amnesty International) appear to confirm that Canadian-made LAVs were moved to the volatile border area with Yemen months ago. In that context, any further sale or transfer of LAVs would not be in keeping with Canada’s obligation to ensure that arms exports from the country “are not used to commit human rights violations.”

    Thank you very much for your attention. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these important issues further with you.


    Alex Neve                                                 
    Secretary General                                  
    Amnesty International Canada                
    (English branch)

    Béatrice Vaugrante
    Directrice Générale
    Amnistie internationale Canada francophone


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    (613) 744-7667 #236