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French rights group moves to block Saudi arms cargo

French rights group moves to block Saudi arms cargo
A French humanitarian group is seeking to block a delivery of munitions to a Saudi ship docked at a port in southern France, arguing the weapons will be used to commit war crimes in Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Yemen.

The rights group, Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), filed its legal challenge Tuesday, following up on a previous effort which successfully blocked a shipment of howitzer cannons to the Saudi Kingdom.

The cargo ship “is to load French weapons bound for Saudi Arabia, one of the main belligerents of the Yemeni conflict,” ACAT said in a statement Tuesday, adding it was “calling on civil society ... to prevent these munitions from leaving” the port of Marseille-Fos.

The shipment is to include ammunition for the French-made Caesar howitzer, a truck-mounted artillery system, according to sources cited by investigative outlet Disclose. Though ACAT managed to block a howitzer shipment earlier this month, Saudi Arabia obtained several Caesar batteries in previous sales.

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ACAT argues that the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, ratified by France in 2014, provides a legal basis for a court order to block the cargo.

Under the treaty, “France undertook not to authorize the transfer of arms when it ‘has knowledge, at the time the authorization is requested that such weapons or property could be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity’,” or other violations of humanitarian law, ACAT said, quoting the language of the agreement.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly told lawmakers Tuesday that she had no information on the shipment, but added that France must respect its alliance with the kingdom in any case. Parly has previously stated there was “no proof” that French weapons contributed to rights violations in the Yemen war.

In April, however, French journalists with Disclose published classified military intelligence documents revealing that French weapons likely were involved in strikes on civilians. French authorities have since interrogated the journalists and threatened them with jail time.

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Earlier Tuesday Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Saudi Arabia to end its “dirty war” on Yemen, but stopped short of demanding an end to French weapons sales, adding that France was “extremely vigilant” in its arms transfers.

Activists at Italian and Spanish ports have also attempted to interfere in the Saudi war effort, with Italian dock workers in Genoa refusing to load cargo onto a Saudi vessel earlier this month, and a similar, albeit unsuccessful, protest at the Spanish port of Santander.

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The UN says Yemen is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions dependent on humanitarian aid and tens of thousands killed in the fighting. A coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia began military operations in Yemen in March 2015, seeking to oust rebels from power and reinstate Yemeni President Mansour Hadi. Both the coalition and the rebels have violated the laws of armed conflict, according to rights groups, but the bulk of civilian casualties have been inflicted in the Saudi air war.

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