Germany has announced that it will stop selling arms to all parties involved in the Yemen conflict. The commendable decision will affect Germany’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which totaled almost $550 USD million in the third quarter of 2017 alone – after increasing five-fold in the previous year. Hopefully this decision might trigger an end to the horrific conflict.
The Yemeni conflict started in March of 2015 when, following Houthi rebels seizing control of the country and forcing then President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to step down, a Saudi Arabian led coalition commenced an aerial campaign against the rebels. The coalition, which is composed of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Senegal has successfully imposed a land, air and maritime blockade on Yemen since November 2017. This blockade is restricting arms shipments and humanitarian supplies while the country descends into one of the worst humanitarian crises of the modern era. There is no denying that the people of Yemen are struggling. The amount of reported Chloera cases in the country has hit 1 million, making it the largest single outbreak in modern history, and there are millions suffering from malnourishment.
A Geneva-based SAM Organisation for Rights and Liberties recently completed a report on the countries human rights abuses that were related to the foreign intervention. The report found that 1,937 human rights violations were committed throughout December 2017. These ranged from violations to press freedoms, to torture and assault, with 150 civilians being killed during December alone. The report concluded that these violations were committed by “Houthis militia, Arab Coalition air force, military formations and groups loyal to the legitimate government”. The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people have died in the bloody Yemeni conflict and over two million have been displaced since the fighting started.
Germany’s move to prevent its arms from getting used against civilians in the conflict has been applauded by human rights groups. Amnesty Gulf, a branch of Amnesty International, praised Germany’s decision and called on other countries to do the same. But others feel that it should not have taken the country so long to stop selling arms to the conflicts big players. Stefan Liebich, a German lawmaker told Al-Jazeera “Saudi Arabia and Egypt have to answer for the thousands of deaths from their dirty war in Yemen,” going on to call Germany’s decision to sell weapons to those countries “reprehensible.” So where does Berlin’s decision sit in comparison to our other western powers?
The U.K.-based Campaign Against Arms Trade reports that the U.K. has licensed more than $6.3 billion USD in arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict began. The country has also provided aid to Yemen; the U.K. International Development Secretary announced that the British government would be giving Yemen $50 million GBP in aid and calling for the “immediate opening up of commercial and humanitarian access into Yemen.” Norway, on the other hand, ceased selling arms to the United Arab Emirates, a big player in the conflict, after rising concern about the countries increased demand for arms. In 2015 the value of arms traded between the two states was $5 million USD but a year on from that the demand had almost doubled to $9.7 million USD. Finally, the United States remains the biggest arms seller to Saudi Arabia, with the country signing an arms deal worth $110 billion USD with Saudi Arabia in May 2017.
It is apparent that while Germany and Norway have ceased the sale of arms to the conflict’s key players, the number of imported arms will not slow down anytime soon. On the one hand, there is a strong argument that if the West stopped supplying weapons to the conflict’s players they would simply obtain them somewhere else. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that a clear move against the conflict from western powers would go ignored by the Saudi Arabian coalition.