France: A unique opportunity to put an end to the “French exception” by establishing parliamentary control over France’s arms sales

In International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

With the imminent publication of recommendations from the parliamentary fact-finding mission on arms export control, the wake-up call raised by many French, international and Yemeni NGOs must finally be heeded.

Paris, 16 October 2020 –  With the report of the fact-finding mission on arms export control to be published on November 18th, fourteen humanitarian and human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) call for an end to France’s opacity on arms sales by establishing  genuine parliamentary control over arms  exports.

The signatory NGOs reiterate the urgency of Parliament finally fulfilling its obligation to oversee and regulate the government’s action in terms of arms exports. Parliamentary oversight and control is all the more essential since French arms sales have been exposed as culpable for serious violations of humanitarian law, particularly in Yemen, where those violations have appalling consequences for the civilian population.

The fact-finding mission on arms export control, whose two co-rapporteurs are MPs Michèle Tabarot and Jacques Maire, was created in December 2018 by the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, partly as a result of public opinion and NGO mobilization against French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, likely to be used illegally against civilians in Yemen.

The publication of the fact-finding mission’s report represents a unique opportunity to create greater transparency on the arms trade for the following reasons:

  1. France, where the Parliament has no ability to exercise genuine control over arms sales carried out by the Executive, is an exception among the major Western democracies, while countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany established such control a while ago. Previous parliamentary initiatives calling for such control have thus far not been enacted. The Parliament and the Executive have the opportunity to put an end to this French exception by enabling the Parliament to exercise its constitutional duty of control over the Executive’s actions.
  2. The French government continues to deliver arms to several countries responsible for serious violations against civilian populations, particularly in the Middle East.  According to the Report of the Ministry of Armed Forces to the Parliament on France’s arms exports, Saudi Arabia is, for the year 2019, among the top three countries that imported the most French arms. The United Arab Emirates has ordered a record number of French arms and this despite their alleged responsibility for serious and repeated violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The catastrophe unfolding in Yemen is described by the UN as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world: due to the conflict, which is entering its seventh year, 80% of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid. This is a preventable tragedy.
  3. By continuing to supply arms to these countries despite the risk of their use to commit violations of international humanitarian law, France increases risks of harm to civilians and violates its international obligations as set out in the Arms Trade Treaty and the European Common Position 2008/944/CFSP.  In April 2019, a confidential document from the Directorate of Military Intelligence dated September 2018 disclosed by the investigative media Disclose showed that French arms were in the hands of the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in the context of the conflict in Yemen, confirming from official sources the clear risk that French arms could be used against civilian populations. The UN Panel of Eminent Experts on Yemen has also pointed out France’s responsibility on several occasions. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution, co-sponsored by France, on October 7, 2020, urging states to “refrain from transferring arms to any party to the conflict when they assess an overriding risk that those arms could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of human rights law or international humanitarian law.”
  4. Finally, public opinion is calling for change now. Indeed, 72% of French citizens are in favour of greater parliamentary control over arms sales and furthermore, 7 out of 10 French citizens want France to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because of their role in the war in Yemen, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by SumOfUs in 2019.

The debate surrounding the release of the fact-finding mission’s report must enable the establishment of genuine control mechanisms by the Parliament as well as increased transparency towards civil society and public opinion.  Long overdue, France must at last be held accountable for its arms exports.

The signatory NGOs:

  1. Action Against Hunger
  2. Action by Christians for the abolition of torture – ACAT-France
  3. Amnesty International France
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. International Federation for Human Rights
  6. Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion
  7. Human Rights Watch France
  8. League for Human Rights
  9. Doctors of the World
  10. Mwatana for Human Rights
  11. The Armaments Observatory
  12. Oxfam France
  13. Salam for Yemen
  14. SumOfUs

Quotes from civil society representatives:

  • Lucile Grosjean, Deputy Advocacy Director of Action Against Hunger:

With the release of this report, the issue at stake is not to create yet another commission, but to find out how the FrenchParliament puts the protection of civilians at the top of its prerogatives. French arms sales are fueling the suffering of people in Yemen and this must stop. Mrs Tabarot and Mr Maire’s proposals will be reviewed on a single criterion: the number of lives that will be saved in Yemen and elsewhere.”

  • Elias Geoffroy, Programme and Advocacy Manager for North Africa and the Middle East at ACAT-France:

While France has just joined the Human Rights Council, committing itself to “ensure national respect for the international instruments it has ratified” such as the Arms Trade Treaty, it is time for it to bring itself up to the level of other democracies in terms of controlling the sale of arms. We hope that the report of the fact-finding mission will live up to expectations, calling for greater transparency and lasting and effective parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that France is not complicit in war crimes.”

  • AymericElluin, Arms Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International France:

Since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, sales of French war materiel to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia have reached considerable amounts. Despite evidence of possible war crimes, more than €6 billion of equipment has been delivered to Saudi Arabia alone since 2015. Following the mobilization of Amnesty International and civil society, a bill was tabled on 28 July last, setting out strong parliamentary control of arms sales. The work of the fact-finding mission should reflect this. Only genuine transparency and the introduction of parliamentary scrutiny will make it possible to ensure that France exports arms in compliance with the Arms Trade Treaty and is not complicit in possible war crimes.”

  • Bénédicte Jeannerod, France Director of Human Rights Watch:

“It is urgent and indispensable that the French Parliament finally be able to exercise effective control over French arms exports, especially when these transfers feed military forces responsible for war crimes against civilians, as is the case with the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen. Let us hope that the fact-finding mission on arms exports will lead to the Parliament having the means to effectively monitor France’s compliance with its international obligations.”

  • Malik Salemkour, President of the League for Human Rights (LDH):

 “It is high time that France respects the Arms Trade Treaty and that a democratic functioning finally gives Parliament the power to control arms deliveries to governments responsible for human rights violations. France must not be complicit in war crimes.”

  • Anissa Daboussi, North Africa & Middle East Programme Officer at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH):

To find a solution to the conflict in Yemen and stop fueling this war which has cost the lives of many Yemenis, we must stop selling arms to the coalition countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The report of the fact-finding mission has been long awaited by the NGOs and we hope that it is up to the challenge, that it proposes clear measures in terms of transparency and the establishment of permanent parliamentary control.”

  • Jon Cerezo, Humanitarian Campaign Manager at Oxfam France:

After more than five years of suffering for the civilian population of Yemen, it is time for France to listen to the appeals of international organizations, NGOs and the majority of French society: stop fueling the war in Yemen with French weapons! France must stop prioritizing its short-term commercial profits over the lives and rights of the people!

  • Nabil Berbour, Campaign Director at SumOfUs:

 “Almost three out of four French people want more control of Parliament over arms sales, as is the case in the UK, Sweden and other democracies. Emmanuel Macron and the government must hear this powerful message and put an end to this anti-democratic French exception.”

  • Philippe de Botton, President of Doctors of the World:

France has its share of responsibility in the humanitarian crisis that Yemen is experiencing today: French arms are directly involved in the devastating conflict that prevents Yemenis from having access to quality health care and from taking care of their families in dignity. The conflict must end and to do so, French arms must stop fuelling it.”

  • Sadek Alsaar, President of Salam For Yemen:

The Yemeni people have been suffering for more than five years from an absurd war and a murderous embargo, which every day increase the number of victims and increase malnutrition and famine. French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are fuelling this war and its share of violations of humanitarian law. France must stop and respect the right to food.”

  • Tony Fortin, Research officer at the Arms Observatory

“If Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have suspended some arms contracts to Riyadh, it is not only because of the war in Yemen, but also because they have put in place a democratic control mechanism that allows civil society to be heard by the rulers. Such a system does not exist in France. We must seize the opportunity provided by the Maire-Tabarot report to (finally!) make progress on the subject. This implies questioning the predominant place given to the executive power and the military logic in our society.”

Share this Post