French independent investigative magazine, Disclose, published a damning report on April 15 exposing the extent of France’s responsibility in the Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes in Yemen. Based on leaks from a classified French Military Intelligence (DRM) report dating back to September 2018, Disclose’s article confirmed the use of French weapons by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the massacre of innocent Yemeni men, women, and children since their military intervention began four years ago. The leaked material contradicted the French government’s claims that the French weapons used by the Saudi-UAE-led coalition in Yemen were used only in military actions against the Yemeni Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen ostensibly to restore the internationally recognized president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, to power after Yemeni Houthis, backed by Iran, had ousted him and seized the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014. Since then, the war in Yemen has resulted in the widespread destruction of infrastructure, an unprecedented famine the likes of which has not been seen in the world in 100 years according to the UN, the deaths of more than 60,000 people, including civilians, and the displacement of millions more. Unfortunately, the protracted war has received minimal exposure in mainstream French media, and the majority of French citizens are unaware of the extent of their government’s exacerbation of one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history. 

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for France to ignore its role in the rising death toll in Yemen.

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for France to ignore its role in the rising death toll in Yemen. Just weeks after the report was released, around 100 human rights activists gathered in the Port of Le Havre, in northern France, to stop a new shipment of weapons from being loaded onto a Saudi Arabian ship. In spite of mounting pressure from critics, President Emmanuel Macron has continued to defend France’s hand in the war, telling reporters on May 9 that “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are allies of France and allies in the fight against terrorism. We accept responsibility for that.”  

French protesters against the loading of weapons in Le Havre, France. Reuters-Benoit Tessier

Despite the devastation of Yemen and proof of France’s involvement in the war, French authorities have consistently rejected the evidence, asserting that there is “no proof these weapons are being used against civilian populations.” They have continued to sign arms deals and provide direct and indirect support for Saudi-UAE military operations. 

According to Observatoire des armements (the Armament Observatory), a French-based Documentation and Research Center on Peace and Conflict, Paris not only delivers Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with state-of-the-art equipment and the pre-sale of futuristic tactical drones. It also provides training of Saudi special forces.

Made in France

The DRM’s 15-page report, entitled “Yemen: The Security Situation,” submitted to the French President and Minister of Defense in October 2018, outlined a detailed list of weapons used in the war, confirming that they had been used in Yemen’s civilian-populated areas. Based on data from the International Peace Research Institute, Disclose reported that France has delivered 132 Caesars (selfpropelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun-howitzers) to Saudi Arabia so far. In addition to the Caesar guns, other French military equipment already delivered to Saudi Arabia includes: Leclerc tanks, arrow shells, Dassault’s Mirage 2000-9, Cobra radars, Aravis armored vehicles, and Cougar and Dauphin helicopters. 

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis are directly suffering from French-made arms. One map from the Disclose report showed that 436,370 Yemenis are potentially in the firing line.

As part of Saudi Arabia’s support for the Yemeni government forces’ fight against the Houthis, Riyadh’s army deployed 48 Caesar cannons manufactured by the French company “Nexter” along the Saudi-Yemeni border on September 25, 2018. On the battlefield, the Saudi-led coalition deployed French Leclerc tanks that had been sold to the UAE in the 1990s.

Based on data from the conflict analysis and crisis mapping project, ACLED, Disclose revealed that the Leclerc tanks were at the heart of the Battle of Hodeidah which left 55 civilians dead in November 2018.

Two French-made vessels were directly involved in the naval blockade that prevented the supply of basic necessities from reaching the Yemeni population.

The damning investigation unveils the extent of Paris’ hypocrisy. Despite claims by the Ministry of Defense that lifting the blockade on Yemen is a priority, two French-made vessels were directly involved in the naval blockade that prevented the supply of basic necessities from reaching the Yemeni population. According to the report, one of the vessels “contributes to the support of ground operations carried out on Yemeni territory.”

France’s Role in the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

A number of NGOs have condemned the exportation of French military equipment to the warring parties in the Yemeni conflict, because of the likelihood of it being used against civilians. The Disclose investigation highlights that France has been overly complacent in what United Nations experts are calling “possible war crimes.” 

For many years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been among the largest importers of French heavy-duty weapons. Saudi Arabia was France’s second largest purchaser after India between 2008 and 2017, while the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain are Riyadh’s other major suppliers. France is obviously aware that if it were to stop selling its weapons, other powers would quickly fill in the gap, resulting in billions of euros in lost sales. 

Therefore, France has not stopped its exports since the beginning of the war. In 2018, when the Saudi-led coalition shut down the crucial Hodeidah port, exacerbating an already dire crisis, France delivered more than 1.46 billion dollars worth of arms to the kingdom in the same year. A 2018 poll conducted by global public opinion and data company, YouGov, showed that 75 percent of French people wanted President Emmanuel Macron to suspend arms exports to participating nations in the Saudi-UAE-led coalition. 

“The crisis in Yemen and the role that France plays through arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE are a stark reminder of the lack of transparency and the entire absence of democratic control over arms sales in France,” said Elias Geoffroy, North Africa and Middle East Advocacy Officer at ACAT-France.

Nonetheless, France’s Secretary of Defense, Florence Barley, insisted that she was not aware that French weapons were being used against civilians in this conflict. 

Following the leak of these documents, ten humanitarian and human rights NGOs called on France to cease providing the two Gulf monarchies with arms immediately. “It is time for the French government to stop putting economic interests before the lives of civilians and the respect of its international commitments,” the NGOs stated.  

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is deteriorating day by day. In light of the evidence and with mounting political pressure, France can no longer deny or justify its complicity in the war. The fate of the starving population of war-torn Yemen is not only in the hands of the French government, but also of the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Spain.

The West is deathly afraid of another failed Iran-like regime in the Arabian Peninsula turning into another hotbed of extremist Islamists.

What will it take for France to lift the blockade and put an end to arms shipments to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi? Certainly intensified internal popular pressure or a peace deal among the warring parties in Yemen could precipitate their withdrawal. The standoff between the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition backed by Western powers is a reminder of the complexity of what is at stake. The West is deathly afraid of another failed Iran-like regime in the Arabian Peninsula turning into another hotbed of extremist Islamists.  It is, however, quite ironic that it is Wahabi Saudi Arabia that is leading the fight. Meanwhile, millions of civilians, including countless children, are seen as just collateral damage.