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Macron should press UAE on Yemen abuses on crown prince's visit, say rights groups

Muhammad Hamed, Reuters | Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan reviews an honour guard in Jordan, November 20, 2018.

France, a leading supplier of arms to the UAE, should raise serious concerns over war violations in Yemen with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during his visit to Paris Wednesday, said human rights groups.

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French President Emmanuel Macron should threaten to stop supplying weapons and munitions to the United Arab Emirates if there is a substantial risk that these arms are being used in Yemen to commit violations of international law, said French and international human rights groups in statements released Tuesday.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan – known by his initials MBZ – is visiting Paris, where he is expected to meet Macron, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe.

The crown prince – considered the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces – was scheduled to visit France last month just weeks after the October 2 disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But the visit was cancelled due to “unforeseen reasons”.

Saudi Arabia has since admitted that Khashoggi was killed by its operatives in Turkey.

The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN.

Khashoggi’s murder has renewed calls for an end to the three-year conflict in the world’s poorest Arab nation that has left an estimated 10,000 dead, says the UN.

France, as one of the leading suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has faced increasing pressure to halt arms sales to the oil-rich Gulf kingdoms leading the military campaign in Yemen.

The call came as US President Donald Trump said he would not cancel military contracts with Saudi Arabia despite conceding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about Khashoggi’s murder.

France faces legal risks over arms sales

France, along with 14 other UN Security Council members, is currently considering a British-initiated UN draft resolution calling for an immediate truce in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida, a critical entry point for humanitarian aid.

Human rights groups have warned that France could face legal risks over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the conflict in Yemen.

UAE jails UK acdemic: "It reveals an atmosphere of fear"

Earlier this year, a report commissioned by Amnesty International and the French human rights group, ACAT found the French government had authorised exports of military equipment to the two Gulf kingdoms in “circumstances where the weapons could be used in the conflict in Yemen and could be used to carry out war crimes”.

No parliamentary approval for French arms sales

Unlike many of its allies, French export licensing procedures have no parliamentary checks or balances. They are approved through a committee headed by the prime minister that includes the foreign, defence and economy ministries.

Details of licences are not public and once approved are rarely reviewed.

The calls on France to investigate arms sales to the Gulf kingdoms have come as Germany has announced an immediate halt to all arms exports to any countries involved in the war in Yemen.

Macron has however dismissed as “demagoguery” the calls by several European countries including Germany to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi’s murder.

“What’s the link between arms sales and Mr Khashoggi’s murder? I understand the connection with what’s happening in Yemen, but there is no link with Mister Khashoggi,” Macron told journalists last month.

But there has been no official follow-up on French arms sales to countries participating in the Yemen conflict.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s records of abuse, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to sell weapons to both countries. In June, French daily Le Figaro reported that French special forces were on the ground in Yemen, alongside UAE forces.

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