Belgian arms manufacturer to face legal action over Saudi weapons sales

Belgian arms manufacturer to face legal action over Saudi weapons sales
© Belga

Several Belgian humanitarian associations, supported by international aid charity Amnesty International, are preparing to take Walloon arms manufacturer FN Herstal to court over shipments of weapons made to the Saudi government in 2015-2020, according to Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

A 2019 Lighthouse Reports investigation proved that Belgian-made FN F2000 automatic weapons were being used, not only by troops of the Saudi border guard, but also actively by military forces fighting across Yemen in the Saudi-led intervention of the Yemeni civil war.

During the conflict, numerous incidents of war crimes have been reported and most major European nations have ended arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Despite this, Belgium’s Wallonia regional government continued to sell weapons to the controversial Saudi international. The Belgian Council of State suspended the regional government’s arms export to Saudi Arabia on at least three separate occasions in recent years. The Belgian arms industry was shown to have grown exponentially as a result of Saudi contracts.

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The organisations believe that the deliveries from FN Herstal were made under the pretence of disputed licences and, as such, may make the company complicit in war crimes in the region.

“Human rights are not respected in Saudi Arabia,” said François Graas, Amnesty International’s Campaign Coordinator. “It is clearly a place where we should not export weapons, which FN Hertsal did however – in which the Walloon region is a 100% shareholder– thanks to licences which were subsequently cancelled by the state council.”

Alongside the planned legal challenge, on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of a Walloon decree allowing the export of weaponry, Amnesty is petitioning the Minister-President of Wallonia Elio Di Rupo to ensure that no new arms exports are made to Saudi Arabia or other any country where there is a risk that they could be used for war crimes.

FN Herstal is not the only company to be involved in arms scandals in recent years.

Despite having its licence suspended by the Walloon government, Belgian armoured vehicle manufacturer John Cockerill delivered 136 LAV-700 gun turrets to Saudi Arabia via Canada between 2019-2020. The company described criticism of its sales to Saudi Arabia as “repeated attacks on its integrity.”

Machine-tooling company New Lachausée was also found to have made ammunition production offers to Russian companies under international sanctions in 2020-2021. The company is 20% owned by the Wallonia region.

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