Rights groups try to stop French munitions shipment to Saudi Arabia

The port of Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille, where the ship is being loaded
The port of Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille, where the ship is being loaded Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

French rights group are trying to block the loading of French munitions onto a Saudi Arabian cargo ship that arrived Tuesday in the southern port of Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille. Rights groups accuse Saudi Arabia of using French arms against civilians in the conflict in Yemen.


The investigative website Disclose said the Bahri Tabuk was to be loaded with munitions for French Caesar howitzer cannons. The site reported on a similar shipment of weapons earlier this month, and after dockworkers threatened to block the ship’s arrival in Le Havre, it left without the cargo.

A representative in France for the Saudi shipping company involved said the ship was not taking weapons, but was pickup up electrical production units, for civilian use.

“We will stay until the ship leaves with the assurance that the munitions were not loaded,” Benoit Muracciole, the president of Ethical republican security action (ASER), a French arms sales watchdog, who is taking part of the protest, told RFI.

“You can’t wage war without munitions. They can have the tanks and canons, but for these tanks and canons to fire, they need the munitions. So it is crucial to block them.”

Dockworkers have said they will refuse to load the munitions.

France defends Saudi arms sales

Defence Minister Florence Parly told lawmakers she had no information on the shipment, and that in any case France had a partnership with Saudi Arabia.

French officials say the weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have been used only for defensive purposes, and reject claims that France is violating the Arms Trade Treaty that prohibits arms sales to countries if their use could lead to civilian casualties.

But in April, the Disclose site published findings from a classified French military intelligence note that showed that French weapons sold to Saudi Arabia were being used against civilians in the Yemen war.

Four of its reporters have been questioned by France's internal DGSI intelligence agency over the leak, and press freedom groups have accused the French government of trying to intimidate the press.

No war without munitions

“There is a risk that these arms provided to Saudi Arabia will be used in the context of the Yemen conflict, by Saudi Arabia or the UAE, to commit war crimes against the Yemeni civil population,” Elias Geoffroy, of the ACAT association of Christians against torture, told RFI. ACAT said it had filed an injunction hoping to block the shipment.

Geoffroy evokes reports documenting air strikes by French Caesar canons on Saudi side of the border with Yemen: “The Caesar canons have a capacity to hit 500,000 Yemeni citizens in the north. And we know that in those zones there have been several civilian victims, due to this kind of bombing. So it’s very likely that these bombings were committed by Caesar cannons.”

"Yes, it's a dirty war, yes it has to be stopped, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates must stop" fighting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French public radio on Tuesday. “We must be extremely vigilant with arms sales to these two countries, which is what we are doing.”

Several French lawmakers have called for a moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, similar to the freeze put in place by Germany in October in response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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