France: Authorities must stop arms-laden ship of shame bound for Saudi Arabia

A Saudi Arabian cargo ship believed to be transporting Canadian armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia must be stopped in France, Amnesty International said today, as the ship transited through the maritime port of Marseille-Fos.

The organization warned there is a serious risk that the military material on board the Bahri Tabuk will be used by the Saudi Arabian armed forces to commit war crimes and other abuses in Yemen, and said there were legitimate reasons to fear that French munitions destined for Saudi Arabia may also be loaded at Marseille-Fos. 

The Bahri maritime transport company’s calendar shows that the Bahri Tabuk was originally scheduled to sail to Genoa after its stopover in Canada but was redirected to Marseille instead.

On 9 and 10 May 2019 another Saudi Arabian cargo ship, the Bahri Yanbu, was prevented from docking at the port of Le Havre, where it was due to load a shipment of French weapons, following legal action by French NGOs and increased public scrutiny.

“We have grounds to fear that the shipment of arms which was blocked from being loaded on to the Bahri Yanbu will instead be loaded onto the Bahri Tabuk,” said Aymeric Elluin, Arms Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International France.                               

“We must not allow this ship of shame to load any dangerous shipment of French arms or to transport weapons from other countries, such as Canada, to Saudi Arabia. The arrival of the Bahri Tabuk is a new test of France’s willingness to respect its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the European Union Common Position on the control of arms brokering."

As a signatory of these two international instruments, France must not allow the transit of a ship if there is a major or manifest risk that the arms being transported by the vessel will be used to commit or facilitate abuses such as war crimes.

French arms for Saudi Arabia

On 28 May the media organization Disclose revealed that, according to its sources, the Bahri Tabuk was expected to load munitions in France for Caesar howitzers being sold to Saudi Arabia under the terms of the OASIS 6 contract. This shipment, were it to go ahead, would be in conflict with article 6.3 of the Arms Trade Treaty, which sets out that transfers must not be authorized if there is a risk that the equipment will be used to commit human rights violations, including war crimes.

France is one of many states party to the ATT, which continues to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia despite the clear risk of them being used to commit war crimes in Yemen. By continuing to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia, France is blatantly ignoring its international obligations.

According to a recent analysis by the Observatoire économique de la défense (Economic Observatory for Defence), French arms exports were boosted in 2018, notably thanks to the delivery of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. These VAB MAK3 armoured combat vehicles are built by Arquus and fitted with ARX25 medium calibre gun turrets, made by Nexter.

Canadian armoured vehicles

On 17 May 2019, the Bahri Tabuk left the port of Saint John in Canada. According to credible testimony and photos obtained by Amnesty International, it is highly likely that aboard the ship is a cargo of Canadian light armoured vehicles destined for Saudi Arabia. Previously, Amnesty International was able to confirm that the first ship, the Bahri Yanbu, had transported Canadian armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia during a journey made in October 2018.

A number of Canadian media sources have relayed images posted on social media by members of the Saudi National Guard, which seem to confirm that these armoured vehicles were seen a few months ago around the unstable border zones with Yemen. Amnesty International has not been able to verify this information.

Amnesty International is calling on Canada, which is in the process of acceding to the Arms Trade Treaty, to align its national legislation with the obligations of the Treaty so that such exports can no longer take place.

Amnesty International and its partners will continue to closely monitor the movements of Saudi Arabian ships suspected of carrying military equipment and will denounce States that flout their international legal obligations. 

Background

  • Bahri, a Saudi Arabian company, signed a five-year contract (2014-2019) with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defence, and became the exclusive logistics transporter of weapons of war purchased by Saudi Arabia abroad, as well as the exclusive transporter of the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces on land, sea and air for the duration of the contract.
  • At the time of this press release, seven journalists who worked on the revelations of the “Yemen Papers” had been interviewed by the DGSI (the General Directorate for Internal Security), as part of a preliminary investigation opened by the Paris public prosecutor after a complaint was made by the Minister for the Armed Forces, accusing them of “compromising national defense”. Amnesty International has launched an urgent action in their defence.
  • In 2014, Canada signed the most important arms contract in its history with Saudi Arabia, approved in 2016 by the government of Justin Trudeau. The contract covers the export of armoured combat vehicles for a value of 14 billion Canadian dollars. It notably includes the delivery of 928 LAV 6 Light Armoured Vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems (Ontario). Since then, Amnesty International Canada and a coalition of NGOs have mobilised to stop these from being delivered.