Canada’s Liberal government has refused to cancel a controversial contract to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia despite Riyadh’s human rights violations, particularly in the war against Yemen.
Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion signed off on export permits for the USD 15-billion sale of light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The contract had been initially signed under the previous Conservative government in February 2014.
Dion, which has come under fire over authorizing the sales, told reporters on Wednesday that Canada’s credibility would be harmed if it didn’t honor the contract.
“Credibility matters. The Liberal Party committed during the 2015 election campaign to respect the previously agreed contract… Our government will not weaken the credibility of the signature of the government of Canada,” Dion said.
He also claimed that canceling the agreement would impede Canada’s efforts to convince Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record.
“If we drop the contract, we will set back the clock on those productive efforts too, and we will simply hand the contract to a non-Canadian, potentially more ambivalent provider,” Dion said.
However, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Thomas Mulcair accused the government of lying to the public regarding the contract.
“The government lied to Canadians about who signed what when in the Saudi arms deal, and that is a very serious matter,” Mulcair said.
Yemen has been under military attacks by Saudi Arabia since late March last year. At least 9,400 people, including 4,000 women and children, have been killed so far.
On March 22, Amnesty International also called on the United States and Britain to halt their arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia amid the brutal Saudi military campaign against Yemen.
Amnesty criticized Riyadh for “repeatedly” using prohibited cluster munitions in attacks that have “killed and maimed civilians.”
Human Rights Watch has also called for an arms embargo, urging the US, the UK, France and all other nations to suspend the sales of arms to Riyadh until it “not only curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen but also credibly investigates alleged violations.”
In February, the European Parliament called for a European Union (EU)-wide arms embargo against Riyadh.
Leading international lawyer Philippe Sands said on Wednesday that Britain has breached international, EU and its own domestic laws by selling arms to Riyadh that were used in the war against Yemen.
The UK government, which supplied export licenses for some USD 4.3 billion worth of weapons to Riyadh last year, had “not asked the right questions” when it came to whether or not it should sell arms to Saudi Arabia, said Sands.
“Having asked the wrong questions, it has reached answers that are implausible.”
Riyadh has been under fire for violating international humanitarian law since the start of its campaign in Yemen in March 2015. The regime has not responded to the numberless reports of violations.