The Council of the European Union and the EU High Representative/Vice-President answer MEPs questions on Saudi Arabia

On 2 February 2016, MEP Ernest Urtasun from the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament issued a Parliamentary Question to the Council of the European Union on the Spanish arms exports to Saudi Arabia, regarding the recent report from Spain’s Secretary of State for Trade. As the report reveals an increase in Spanish arms exports to questionable countries, MEP Urtasun raises concerns on Spanish arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

The question by MEP Urtasun reads:

The most recent relevant report from Spain’s Secretary of State for Trade, as reported by Cadena SER, states that the country exported EUR 447.6 million in weapons to Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2015. Weapons constitute 26% of Spain’s total exports to that country (EUR 1.73 billion). The report also reveals that there has been an increase in Spanish arms exports to countries such as Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Malaysia, and that a large proportion of Spain’s arms exports are going to controversial destinations such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Israel, Lebanon and Ukraine.

Common Position 2008/944/CFSP lays down eight binding criteria for arms exports by EU Member States. Saudi Arabia initiated military intervention in Yemen in March 2015.

Does the Council consider that the increase in Spanish arms exports to Saudi Arabia could be in breach of Criteria One, Two and Six of Common Position 2008/944/CFSP?

The answer by the Council of the European Union issued on 12 May 2016 reads:

The Honourable Member is invited to refer to the Council’s reply to Written Question E‐013034/2015: Member States are bound by Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment. Information on Member States’ arms exports, in accordance with this Common Position, can be found in the EU annual reports. Each Member State assesses the export licence applications on a case-by-case basis against the criteria set out in the Common Position. Article 4(2) of the Common Position provides that ‘the decision to transfer or deny the transfer of any military technology or equipment shall remain at the discretion of each Member State’.

Member States jointly assess, through the common foreign and security policy framework, the situation of potential or actual recipients of exports of military technology and equipment from Member States in the light of the principles and criteria in the Common Position. These criteria include, amongst others, the likelihood of the military technology or equipment being used other than for the legitimate national security and defence of the recipient.

As regards Yemen, the Council recalls its conclusions of 20 April 2015, where it expressed its serious concern on the rapidly deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen. It noted that the President of Yemen had informed the President of the UN Security Council that ‘he has requested from the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and the League of Arab States to immediately provide support, by all necessary means and measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the continuing aggression by the Houthis’. The Council also recalled that ultimately the solution to this crisis must be a political one, and urged all sides to urgently give unrestricted access to humanitarian workers and aid relief, so that vital assistance can be immediately delivered to the most vulnerable people. The Council has also adopted a decision prohibiting arms exports for the benefit of the individuals and entities engaging in acts that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen, designated by the United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 2216 (2015).

As regards Yemen, in its conclusions of 16 November 2015 the Council expressed its deep concern at the situation in the country and reiterated that the solution to this crisis must be a political one. The Council also renewed its call on all regional actors to engage constructively with Yemeni parties in order to enable a de-escalation of the crisis and avoid further regional instability, urging all parties to respect the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality and to ensure the protection of civilians and of humanitarian aid workers.

Moreover, on 17 March 2016, MEP Josef Weidenholzer from the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, issued a Parliamentary Question to the High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini on the executions of activists and minors in Saudi Arabia. On many occasions, NGOs have raised concerns on the high number of executions in Saudi Arabia related to charges on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as on death sentences imposed upon minor alleged offenders going against to UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory country.

The question by MEP Weidenholzer reads:

On 2 January 2016 the Government of Saudi Arabia executed 47 individuals, including prominent opposition activist and cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. Sheikh Nimr’s nephew Ali al-Nimr remains on death row for a crime he reportedly committed as a minor. Hasan al‐Zaher and Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon sit alongside him on death row for crimes they also reportedly committed as minors. All three men were arrested on charges related to the exercise of their freedoms of speech and assembly.

— Given that the EU is committed to ending the death penalty, and given its commitment to protecting the right to freedom of expression, what does the VP/HR plan to do to halt the executions of Ali al-Nimr, Hasan al-Zaher and Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon?

— Will the VP/HR publicly and unequivocally condemn Saudi Arabia for violating its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a party?

— What does the VP/HR plan to do to ensure that the Government of Saudi Arabia stops its use of the death penalty against activists?

The answer given by the HR/VP Ms Mogherini issued on 18 May 2016 reads:

The HR/VP shares the concerns of the Honourable MEPs about the worrying trend related to the use of the death penalty globally, and in particular in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The EEAS, both in Brussels and locally, via the EU Delegation in Riyadh, continue to closely monitor the cases of Ali al-Nimr, Hasan al-Zaher and Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon.

The EU is consistently engaged with the Saudi authorities building on the recommendations made during its UN Universal Periodic review in 2013, notably as regards restricting the scope of implementation of the Death Penalty and ensuring standards of fair and transparent trial. The EEAS itself has been engaging the Saudi authorities, in close coordination with EU Member States, to urgently convey the EU’s preoccupation regarding a number of individual cases, highlighting in particular the situation of minors sentenced to capital punishment. On 2 January 2016, the HR/VP issued a public statement on executions in Saudi Arabia, recalling the EU’s principled opposition to the death penalty, while also voicing specific concern on the execution of Ali Al-Nimr in light of civil and political rights and fair judicial standards.

The EU will continue to call on the Saudi Government to act proportionately in all such cases to protect the universal rights of freedom of expression and assembly, while also reminding of the obligations ensuing from international conventions, to which Saudi Arabia is a party. The EU will also continue to advocate for the reconsideration of the death penalty, particularly in case where citizens were accused or convicted as a result of the peaceful expression of their opinion, through all appropriate diplomatic channels.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the Parliamentary Questions issued by MEP Ernest Urtasun and by MEP Josef Weidenholzer on the key matters related to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. It shares concerns on the increase number of arms exports to countries that consistently violate human rights as well as international public and humanitarian law conventions. Furthermore, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights urges the Council of the European Union and the EU HR/VP to push for meaningful reforms seeking the abolishment of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and calls on the EU to closely monitor the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s lack of commitment to its obligations under the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and to urge compliance with international standards.

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