Italy has made a decisive decision to permanently halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The decision is marked as historic by human rights activists around the world. The halt of arms is due to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen conflict. Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised for its actions in Yemen, their intervention in Yemen has been through bombs, naval ships, ground combat and airstrikes. The war has led to severe famine in Yemen and the UN estimates that nearly 20 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance, which accounts for 78 per cent of the entire population. In 2019, other European Union countries also halted their arms sales because of the humanitarian issues in Yemen, yet Italy is the first to permanently halt all exports.
In his statement for Italy’s decision, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio stated, “this is an act that we considered necessary, a clear message of peace coming from our country. For us, the respect of human rights is an unbreakable commitment.” This decision has been a long-campaigned victory for humanitarian organisations and has significant effect in hindering Saudia Arabia’s military campaign.
Riccardo Noury, a spokesperson for Amnesty International in Italy commented that, this decision includes the revocation of “licenses granted to Saudi Arabia in 2016 covering almost 20,000 MK series aerial bombs worth over 411 million euros.” Thus, according the Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, Italy’s decision has stopped the export of at least 12,700 bombs.
Hence, this embargo marks a significant step towards global intervention in the Yemen conflict. Similarly, Joe Biden, in his first week of office as the American President also committed to the suspension of exports of arms to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. A financially precarious decision as the arms deal is a multibillion-dollar agreement.
The halting of arms by Italy sets a precedent for other countries to change the arm suspension to a permanent blockade. According to Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, “the spotlight now has to be turned on the U.K., and other arms-dealing governments who have played a central role in enabling the conflict. These arms sales must stop, and so must the political support that has underpinned them.”
Hence, there is a sense of a subtle shift in the geopolitical environment. A tangible change to conflict and prioritising civilian and humanitarian affairs. This is evident by the actions of Italy and the spotlight has shifted to other countries to follow in their footsteps. The situation in Yemen is unstable and perilous, the UN describes it as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Italy’s actions of halting economic relations through arms exports with the U.A.E. indicates an acknowledgement of how trade exports can perpetuate conflict, war and death. Hence, Italy’s decision signifies a commitment to upholding humanitarian conscience trade links.