Arms sales: France and the United Arab Emirates, partners in the crimes committed in Yemen?

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Paris - Abu-Dhabi — EIghty Rafale fighter jets: the striking outcome of President Macron’s December 2021 tour of the Gulf countries, illustrating the vitality of French military exports in the region. FIDH and its member organisations and partners publish the report "Arms sales: France and the United Arab Emirates, partners in the crimes committed in Yemen?’’. This report is the product of research conducted between April 2019 and April 2021 by FIDH and its member organisations from Yemen, the Gulf and France, respectively Mwatana for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), and the Human Rights League (LDH) in collaboration with the Observatoire des armements. This work reveals that French companies and the French state have failed to respect some of their international human rights commitments, making them potentially complicit in the crimes committed by the United Arab Emirates.

Under French law, exports of military equipment are subject to a general principle of prohibition, unless the Government grants authorisation. The aim is to ensure that "Made In France" weapons do not fuel armed conflict or civil war, nor be used to commit human rights violations. The United Arab Emirates, a long-standing and strategic ally of France, is nevertheless engaged in the war in Yemen, the cause of the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster according to the UN, and which has resulted in the death of nearly 400,000 people.

By becoming the third largest exporter of military equipment in the world in 2020, France has achieved commercial success at the expense of its international commitments, since a significant proportion of these exports are to a regime accused of violating international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The close partnership between France and the United Arab Emirates is a textbook case of the complex interplay of political, military and industrial links forged over the years to circumvent international law. It illustrates a veritable "system" designed to circumvent the legal and moral safeguards that govern the arms trade.

The growth in technology transfers and the establishment of major French industrial brands (or their branches) over the past ten years have made Abu-Dhabi the fifth largest customer of French military equipment. The Gulf region thus acts as a "grey zone" where French equipment can be sold, manufactured or transited through without hindrance. Denounced for years, particularly with regard to the French surveillance equipment supplied to Al-Sissi’s Egypt, this institutionalised duplicity still escapes any effective democratic control.

Our report first outlines France’s legal obligations with regard to arms exports and documents the involvement of Abu-Dhabi and affiliated groups in the conflict in Yemen, and in the violation of human rights. It provides several direct and detailed testimonies of victims of these abuses. The second part of the report looks at the development of the strategic partnership between France and its Emirati allies. It brings up to date the process that allows for the direct export of arms, transfer of French knowledge and skills, and joint development of arms with the Emirates, in the framework of a project involving other suppliers (German, British, etc.), and finally the development of arms by foreign subsidiaries of French companies.

The findings of this report confirm the pertinence of the demands that FIDH and its partner organisations have been making for years. The first demand is to ban the export of arms and surveillance technology to the United Arab Emirates as long as serious human rights violations are committed by UAE authorities, military forces and proxy forces at home and abroad, notably in Yemen. Particularly as long as the abuses committed are not investigated. We also call for the creation of a permanent parliamentary commission of inquiry, with responsibility for the systematic a priori and a posteriori control of France’s exports of arms and surveillance equipment to fragile regions. We finally demand the reform of the authorisation process for the exportation of arms and dual-use equipment, as the current process alarmingly lacks transparency.

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