Belgium has suspended the approval of Walloon arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia, handing a win to several humanitarian groups who denounced the decision.
The Council of State, Belgium’s highest administrative court, blocked the approval of one out of six arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia, reversing a process approved by Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo.
The Council ruled to overturn the approval of an arms exports licence between the Saudi National Guard and leading arms manufacturer FN Herstal, headquartered in Herstal, north of Liège.
The decision followed an urgent appeal filed by four humanitarian an anti-war NGOs mid-July to have all six licences suspended in the light of the Saudi-led military onslaught in Yemen, which, as of March of this year, had led to the death of over 112,000 Yemenis and displaced over 3 million.
International observers and humanitarian groups have accused Saudi Arabia of committing war crimes in Yemen as part of its military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi forces in the country.
For the remaining exports licences, the Council dismissed the NGO’s requests to have Di Rupo’s go-ahead overturned in urgency.
The League of Human Rights, Vredesactie, the Francophone division of Amnesty International Belgium and the Coordination Nationale d’Action pour la Paix et la Démocratie (CNAPD), an anti-war and pro-democracy group, appealed the arms exports licences before the Council on 16 July.
“The resumption of arms exports towards a country which is suspected of committing war crimes in Yemen, therefore done in total violation of international humanitarian law (…) is all the more shocking since it comes barely two months after the Council of State already suspended the licences authorising these exports,” the NGOs wrote in an online statement.
“We are worried today that Elio Di Rupo is, in the greatest opacity, renewing previously suspended licences and thereby going against a decision taken by the courts.”
The Council’s decision comes just weeks after an investigation by Amnesty International Belgium revealed that John Cockerill —another leading Walloon arms maker whose arms exports licences was also targetted by the NGO’s appeal in June— was giving arms training to Saudi soldiers in a site they built in northeastern France.