Human Lives Human Rights: The human rights groups and experts have accused Canada of prioritizing arms sales over human rights concerns in its dealings with Saudi Arabia.
Cesar Jaramillo, the executive director of Project Ploughshares, a peace research institute of the Canadian Council of Churches, said that while Ottawa speaks “loudly and proudly of Canada as a beacon of human and womens rights”, there was a clear disconnect due to continued arms sales to notorious rights abusers.
“[Canada] touts its commitment to more stringent and transparent arms control regulations at every opportunity. But the gap between rhetoric and reality has become too great to ignore,” he said.
According to a report published last week by Project Ploughshares and Amnesty International Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was accused of violating the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an international agreement that seeks to regulate the international arms trade and prevent the misuse of weapons, with sales of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia.
The rights groups said Canadian weapons transfers to the kingdom could be used to commit or facilitate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law – particularly in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
“It has been established through investigations and expert reports that Canadian weapons exports to [Saudi Arabia] are contrary to Canada’s legal obligations under the ATT,” the report said.
Yemen has endured years of chaos since 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the capital and ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in March 2015 to prop up Hadi’s beleaguered government, and have since carried out more than 20,000 air strikes, with one-third striking non-military sites, such as schools and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.
“These flagrant contradictions would be laughable if they weren’t too harmful to the very objectives Canada purports to champion. The fact that Canada is still arming this human-rights pariah is not evidence that the case for halting such arms exports is flawed, but that Ottawa has obstinately refused to listen,” Jaramillo said.
He added that it was hard to understand how or why the prospect of economic penalties would override the Canadian government’s obligation to uphold the law, especially when it came to denying export permits for weapons with a clear potential of being misused, which he said was undoubtedly the case with Saudi Arabia today.
“Canadians have been fed the falsehood that Saudi Arabia is a force for stability in the region as a reason to justify continued arms sale there, but the evidence points to the exact opposite, including the reality that Saudi Arabia has been the chief architect of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Jaramillo said.
According to a recent UN estimate, at least 233,000 people have died in the war, while millions more have been pushed to the brink of famine.
In light of rising civilian casualties, and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trudeau government put a moratorium on new export permits to the kingdom in 2018.
But in 2019, Canada sold “a record amount of military hardware” to Riyadh, worth approximately $2.2bn. These included light armored vehicles (LAVs), artillery systems, and heavy machine guns.
The moratorium concluded in April 2020, with Ottawa saying it had made improvements to the LAV contract and pledging to evaluate each and every future military export permit.
In 2020, Canadian arms sales dropped, fueled by a more than $1bn decrease in sales to Saudi Arabia compared with 2019.