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Three NGOs take arms export decision to court

The Saudi container ship Yanbu, soon to arrive in Antwerp to pick up a shipment of arms © Amnesty

Three Belgian non-governmental organisations have taken the federal government, and federal finance minister Alexander De Croo, to court in Brussels looking to prevent the export of Belgian arms to Saudi Arabia, Knack reports.

The action is being brought by the Human Rights League, the anti-war action group Vredeseiland and the peace and democracy defence union CNAPD. They are asking the Council of State to declare a six-month moratorium on any arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

The reason is that country’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, where Saudi-backed rebels are trying to overthrow the government. The involvement of the Saudis in the war was revealed last May by the investigative project BelgianArms, and publicised by Knack, Le Soir, the VRT and Lighthouse Reports.

Arms sales in Belgium are the responsibility of the regional authorities, so two of the NGOs took the Walloon government to court in Namur in September last year, after the regional government approved an export licence for the shipping of arms to Saudi Arabia. The NGOs argued that the licence was not clear regarding the ultimate destination for the arms – not to Saudi Arabia, but in reality to Yemen.

But while the issue of export licences is a matter for the regions, the control of the exports themselves is a matter for the customs authorities, which come under the responsibility of the federal government and the finance ministry in particular.

Now the matter is becoming urgent, as the container ship Yanbu is due shortly to arrive at Antwerp from Bremen in Germany, before moving on to France and Italy. The Yanbu is owned by the Saudi shipping company Bahri, known to be the Saudi government’s official arms transporter.

The legal action by the three NGOs is calling for an interim injunction for a period of six months on any arms exports from Belgium. They are also asking for the injunction to be communicated to the other customs authorities in the EU, so that there would effectively be an EU-wide ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, on pain of a fine of €75,000 for every breach of the ban.

The application was filed last Friday, and arguments are due to be heard in the court on Monday.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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