Canada joins the Arms Trade Treaty while still selling arms to Saudi Arabia

by Christine Martin & Sawsan Al-Refaei | September 18, 2019
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Background media: Destruction in Yemen

Canada joins the Arms Trade Treaty while still selling arms to Saudi Arabia

by Christine Martin & Sawsan Al-Refaei | September 18, 2019
Destruction of civilian houses that were hit during airstrike raids in Sana’a on Thursday 16th May 2019.

Following decades of advocacy, Canada has finally joined the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The multilateral treaty aims to regulate international weapons sales in order to reduce suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers.

This is a moment Oxfam has worked towards for over a decade.

Together, we raised our voices and demanded that countries turn commitments into action. We wanted a worldwide effort to reduce suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers. A powerful example of our collective influence is the ‘Million Faces’ petition, which was presented to former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in 2006.

The campaign collected 1,000,000 signatures and strengthened world leaders’ determination to produce a binding arms trade treaty. While Oxfam was tirelessly advocating for the adoption of the ATT internationally, Oxfam Canada was also mobilizing Canadians to call on our own government to join the treaty.

Canada joining the ATT is a major victory for civil society across Canada. By signing the treaty, Canada has finally committed to ban the export of arms that could be used to perpetrate war crimes, genocide and other grave violations of international law.

By joining the ATT, Canada is also one step closer to ensuring that Canadian weapons cannot be used to target civilians, including the brave individuals fighting to advance women’s rights and equality throughout the world.

But the celebration is bittersweet.

Unfortunately, joining the ATT does not affect Canada’s pre-existing arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This means that in spite of joining the ATT, Canada continues to sell weapons to a country notorious for targeting its own citizens and for waging a prolonged war on neighbouring Yemen. The government has made no solid move to cancel Canada’s $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite calls from Canadians across the country.

In Yemen , the war has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — claiming over 17,000 civilian casualties, forcing 3 million people from their homes, and making 80% of the population reliant on humanitarian aid.

It has also deepened gender inequality. Before the conflict, Yemen was already one of the world’s worst places for women — and yet, they were making fragile gains. But the war, fueled by a continuous flow of arms, has pushed women back into the private sphere and subjected female activists to intimidation and harm. Gender-based violence has increased by more than 63 per cent since the start of the conflict. It is heartbreaking for Yemeni women to see their achievements reversed by this unjust war.

Saudi Arabia systematically violates women’s human rights. If Canada is serious about its feminist foreign policy, it should place these considerations above economic ones. Right now, Canada is failing to stand up for women’s rights where they are most under threat — in Yemen.

Canada recently announced historic funding to support women’s rights organizations and movements, who are leading the fight for justice and equality around the world. This funding is desperately needed and will help them pursue groundbreaking work. Yet women’s human rights defenders need more than funding. They need our solidarity. They need countries like Canada to put principles over profit.

Over the past year, Canada has publicly challenged Saudi Arabia’s authoritarianism when it has targeted its own citizens. Canada publicly denounced the imprisonment of women’s rights activists and sanctioned the 17 Saudi individuals connected to the torture and brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The diplomatic escalation and stern rhetoric from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to an imminent end to Canada’s ties with Saudi Arabia.

In October 2018, the Canadian government announced that his government was reviewing its arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Yet, to this day, Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia remains in place.

There has been a lack of transparency around the Canadian government’s process to review its arms deal with Saudi Arabia, with no timeline or public oversight. To add insult to injury, Saudi Arabia seems to view the review process as a joke. In the spring, a Saudi Minister speculated that there was in fact no ongoing review of the arms deal and that the Canadian government was just trying to appease a public increasingly suspicious of the Kingdom.

Canada’s accession to the ATT, admirable as it is, will not stop the horrors in Yemen. Canada must stop fueling this awful war and join countries like Denmark, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Austria that have either suspended or terminated arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Recent developments in the United States and the United Kingdom, both heavy suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, suggest that these countries may be moving in the same direction. Canada should follow suit, to demonstrate its commitment to the ATT and put an end to the unacceptable suffering of Yemenis caught in the crossfire.

By raising your voice, you helped ensure Canada finally joined the Arms Trade Treaty. Now let’s work together to get Canada to put an end to its arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Oxfam has been in Yemen for more than 30 years. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, we have reached more than 3 million people with urgent humanitarian assistance, including food security and livelihoods – providing cash transfers for host and displaced communities affected by the conflict to help buy food and restore livelihoods through support to small businesses (such as livestock, sewing, small food shops, etc); water and sanitation – trucking water to camps for displaced people, installing and maintaining latrines and repairing water systems; hygiene promotion – particularly around cholera prevention and treatment through the distribution of hygiene and dignity kits.


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