European involvement in the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

While the US is considered the biggest supporter of the Saudi led war in Yemen they are far from the only western actor involved in supplying arms and support to the coalition despite their intimate knowledge of the extremely high civilian casualties and deliberate tactics employed by the coalition to starve Yemen into submission. France, Spain, Italy and Germany have all supplied weapons, logistical support, and training, to varying degrees, to the Saudi led coalition and are no less guilty than the US or UK for fueling, enabling, and supporting a war that has led to the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history.



 French involvement in the ongoing war in Yemen is so extensive it would be difficult to argue that they are not co-belligerents. The French government is well aware of this fact and have done all they can to downplay their involvement in crimes against humanity. This is supported by the fact that the French government was caught in a lie, they claimed that French weapons sold to coalition members were only being used against armed combatants despite the leak of a classified French Military Intelligence (DRM) report that detailed the use of French weapons by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to massacre civilians. Despite mounting criticism of the French government for its involvement in the war the population of France is largely unaware of France’s involvement and the French government has continued to sign arms deals to sell state of the art equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and has continued to train and logistically support Saudi troops.

To make matters worse there are credible reports that France has deployed special forces to Yemen alongside UAE forces although the French Ministry of Defense denies these allegations. This is especially troubling as UAE ground forces have been accused of setting up prison camps where mass sexual assault and torture are used on civilian prisoners who have not been tried.

 When questioned French government officials have three main talking points they employ, first they claim that the Houthis backed by Iran started the war and they are simply defending the legitimate government of Yemen, second, they claim that weapons sent to the coalition were part of an arms deal signed before the conflict in Yemen began which is an easily disprovable lie as the most recent arms deal between France and coalition members was signed in 2018, third they claim the weapons they send to the gulf are only used for defensive purposes and never against civilians which is another easily disprovable lie as French artillery has been regularly used to back up coalition forces in Yemen with an estimated 436,000 civilians potentially affected by artillery fire and the classified DRM report mentioned above states otherwise. Even if all the claims made by the French government were true the fact remains that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been responsible for countless human rights violations and hundreds of thousands of deaths since the war began and selling them weapons in any capacity with full knowledge of their conduct in Yemen is akin to excusing their conduct.


While the Spanish government is less involved in the war in Yemen than the US or France their hands are by no means clean. Spain has secretly sold US made bombs to the Saudis in a deal that was finalized in 2015 under the government of Rajoy. When Rajoy’s government was voted out in favor of the Socialist Party (PSOE) which immediately tried to cancel the deal. In response to the cancellation of the deal Saudi Arabia threatened to cancel all contracts with Spain which led to a public protest by Spanish workers which in turn forced the government to honor the original agreement. According to a high ranking official in former PM Rajoy’s party the arms deal was never meant to be good business as Spain will actually pay more for the bombs then they will get from the deal, the entire point of the deal was to show political support for the Saudi coalition.

Despite the loss taken on this particular deal Spain still sells hundreds of millions of Euros worth of weapons to the Saudi coalition, ranking as the 4th largest provider of arms to Saudi Arabia after the US, France, and the UK. For example Spain has signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia for 2 billion Euros over five years in exchange for five corvettes (mid-sized warships) which will almost certainly be used to maintain the blockade that the coalition has imposed on Yemen.


Another country which has contributed to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, is Italy, primarily though their arms trade with the Saudi-led coalition. The Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition has been responsible for numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes against civilians and civilians objects amounting to war crimes. The coalition has received immense support from foreign countries including Italy. Remnants of weapons manufactured in Italy have been found at sites of potential war crimes in Yemen.

The issue of European Countries’ involvement has even been brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) when several NGOs called for an investigation into the responsibility of corporate and governmental actors in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a communication together with the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights, and Italian group Rete Disarmo which raised the question responsibility of European and Italian arms companies. It also touched upon the accountability of the Italian authorities for issuing export licences. In particular, the communications focused on several European countries including Spain, Germany, France, the UK and Italy and provided factual information on 26 air strikes. According to Italian Law 185/1990, arms export “to countries engaged in armed conflict” is prohibited. Regardless of this nationaltion law as well as their obligations under EU rules and the Internationals Arms Trade Treaty, which was unanimously raitified by the Italian Parliament, Italy continues to export weapons to the coalition forces.


Germany, a country which prides itself on its restrictive export policies, has also played a significant role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition. In the third fiscal quarter of 2017, Germany’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia totalled to almost 450 million euro which is approximately $550 million. German-made arms and technology have been involved the war in Yemen, in the air, at sea and on land. Strangely, German arms guidelines expressly forbid weapons export to countries that are involved in armed conflict.

Previously, the government continuously denied knowledge of German weapons and technology present in Yemen used by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In early 2018, Germany signed a coalition agreement which explicitly prohibited approval of weapons export to any country directly involved in the war in Yemen but reports showed that export to Saudi Arabia and to the UAE continued regardless. Despite the signing of this coalition agreement, Germany approved exports for 416 million euros to Saudi Arabia, and export worth more than 40 million euros to the UAE. The fact that Germany continued to export weapons is partly due to the important role that the UAE plays in the Arabian Peninsula according to the German Foreign Office. In the air war, German technology has played a rather important role. Although the Saudi Air Force acquired their fighter jets from the US, Germany played a role in the manufacturing of several components of the vessels.

However, in January 2020, Germany announcing that it would stop all arms export to countries involved in the war in Yemen. In march 2020, Germany extended a full arms export ban to Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalists, Jamal Khashoggi. With this move, Germany was the only European country to impose an arms sales ban on Saudi Arabia


The war in Yemen has resulted in countless civilian casualties. Considered to be the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen called for an end to the multi-billion-dollar arms trade between Western countries and the coalition forces specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As shown above, multiple European countries have provided the coalition forces with assistance through a manner of ways thus none of these countries have clean hands. Gross human rights violations have taken place within a culture of impunity and none of the parties have been held accountable for the atrocious crimes that they have committed or that they have contributed to via their actions. With more than 10,000 people who have died over the course of this crisis, these countries have to stop providing assistance and support to the Saudi-led coalition.

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