Will Canada’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia impact its bid for a UN Security Council seat?

March 4, 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long wanted to get Canada back on the UN Security Council, where it last had a seat in 2000. For Trudeau, such a return would signal Canada’s “renewed commitment to international peace and security.” With the next election for UNSC seats in June, Trudeau recently toured vote-rich Africa, trying to garner support for Canada as a voice for global peace and stability.

While Trudeau was away, Statistics Canada released cumulative 2019 datasets for certain exports of Canadian goods.

According to this data, light armoured vehicles (LAVs) worth $2.7-billion were exported to Saudi Arabia last year—nearly double the record-high value sent to the Saudis in 2018, and more than five times the also-record value of those sent in 2016. Last year, for the first time in recent history, a country other than the United States was likely the biggest importer of Canadian weapons.

These weapon exports were permitted despite Saudi Arabia’s disturbing track record of human-rights abuses, both at home and abroad. For example, in the civil war that has raged for five years in Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition has been held responsible for the indiscriminate killing of civilians and aid workers, in defiance of international humanitarian law.

Coalition blockades of Yemeni ports and the deliberate destruction of key infrastructure have contributed to the largest outbreak of cholera in modern history. Explosives are routinely used against Yemeni cities, with over nine out of ten casualties being noncombatants. UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls this war an “overwhelming humanitarian calamity.”

The coalition makes heavy use of Canadian-made goods. Photographs taken in Yemen show Canadian LAVs and other weapons active on the battlefield; these photos are likely evidence of diversion, which contravenes the Arms Trade Treaty and Canadian Bill C-47. In late 2019, the United Nations Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen stated that all arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition “could amount to knowingly aiding to assisting…in the commission of internationally wrongful acts.” Nonetheless, continued evidence of coalition misadventure in Yemen (and elsewhere) is met with little protest from the Canadian government.

The drastic humanitarian impacts of these weapon systems are clear. Such exports equip a coalition that deliberately bombs civilians, targets fleeing migrants, and employs child soldiers; as well, they stand in clear violation of both domestic and international controls. How can Canada continue to arm one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights, while also “pursu[ing] human rights on the world stage” by vying for a seat on the UN Security Council? Surely, the time has come to choose.

Photo: A screen shot from a video released by the Houthi movement allegedly shows two  Canadian-made Saudi light armoured vehicles (LAVs) destroyed by the rebels in an August 2019 offensive in the Kitaf district in northern Yemen. (Houthi Military Media/Handout)

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