Belgium to Suspend Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia

The NGOs LDH, CNAPD and Vredesactie, along with Amnesty International, have welcomed this major decision by the Council of State regarding arms exports to a country well known for its human rights abuses and suspected of committing war crimes.

Following an urgent request submitted on 19 February, the National Coordination of Actions for Peace and Democracy (CNAPD), the Belgian League of Human Rights (LDH) and Vredesactie, backed by Amnesty International, are welcoming the Council of State's decision to suspend the enforcement of the decisions taken by the Minister-President of the Walloon Region, which allowed several Belgian weapons companies, including FN Herstal and Mecar et John Cockerill Defense, to receive arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia.

NGOs welcome decision

"Today, the Council of State took a major decision. With this judgment, it will be increasingly hard for the Walloon region and the Minister-President, Elia Di Rupo, to grant arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia, a country that is leading a coalition in the war in Yemen and that is suspected of having committed war crimes", explained the NGOs' representatives. "Furthermore, we welcome the fact the Council of State highlighted that the Saudi National Guard was not a reliable recipient, thus recognising that the risk that these arms could be used for unintended purposes in the context of the Yemen war remained high due to the involvement of the National Guard in this conflict".

Previous decisions did not comply with international humanitarian law

The Council of State ruled that the decision of the Walloon Minister-President to grant arms export licenses breached the conditions related to the compliance with international humanitarian law provided for by the Walloon Decree of 21 June 2012 on import, export, transit and transfer of civilian weapons and defense-related goods.

It appears that the "Opinion Commission", consulted by the Walloon government about the arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia that were targeted by the urgent request submitted by the NGOs, repeatedly gave unfavourable opinions regarding compliance with several provisions of the same Walloon Decree, especially with regard to the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, the regional situation and the respect of international law.

To justify its decision, the Council of State also referred to the Arms Trade Treaty that Belgium ratified in June 2014, and more specifically to the article under which any State must ensure, before transferring weapons to a third-country, that that country complies with international human rights and humanitarian rights, which Saudi Arabia clearly does not.