The business of war

Spain continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite atrocities in Yemen

NGOs warn: Navantia's ships could aggravate the humanitarian crisis

3 min
The neighborhood of A el Foulaihy in the old city of Sanó, after a bombing by the Saudi coalition.

BarcelonaAli Jameel and his colleagues from the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights are risking their lives to document war crimes in Yemen, martyred by decades of conflict. After a bombing in a neighbourhood or a hospital, they quickly go to the area to collect the remains of the ammunition used and to interview the survivors. This is how, since Saudi Arabia's intervention began in 2015, they have gathered evidence of 177 aerial bombardments. In 29 cases they were able to prove that the Saudi coalition was dropping bombs made in the UK, Italy and Germany. And where are these bombs being dropped from? Well, also from planes made in Europe, including Spain. "Spain is an accomplice to war crimes for selling fighters and military ships to Saudi Arabia", denounces Jameel from Sana'a in a telephone conversation with ARA.

Complaint to the Hague Tribunal

Mwatana has presented, together with other entities, a complaint for complicity in war crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague against these European states. About Spain, they claim that the exports of military aircraft and spare parts to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt since 2015 should be investigated. Specifically, these are A330 MRTT refueling aircraft, manufactured in Getafe, and the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, which is manufactured in Illescas (Toledo). The complaint was filed in 2019 and the Court's prosecutor's office has committed to respond if it accepts the case this year.

As detailed in the complaint, with the war underway and when everyone already knew about the atrocities committed by the Saudi coalition in Yemen, the supply plane traveled on several occasions to Madrid's Barajas airport for maintenance agreed with Iberia Maintenance. Half of the Saudi military air fleet is made up of European-made aircraft, and the Spanish-made model has replaced the air refueling planes that the U.S. Congress forced to be grounded. "The war has intensified in recent months because with the prospect of Biden pushing for a peace deal, all sides are trying to gain territory", Jameel explains.

Navantia's frigates and the maritime blockade

Since the Saudi intervention in the country in 2015, at least 233,000 people have died (there are allegations of war crimes against all sides) and some European countries have chosen to restrict arms exports to the Gulf monarchy. The Spanish government, on the other hand, decided to maintain the contract for the sale of 400 smart bombs to the Riyadh regime in order to guarantee the contract for five Navantia frigates (1,813 million euros and on which six thousand jobs depend) that are being manufactured in Cadiz.

The sale of the frigates (Navantia announced a few days ago the grounding of the third one) worries human rights organizations because Saudi Arabia has imposed a fierce siege on Yemen that affects the entry of food, fuel and medicines and has contributed to what the UN considers the worst humanitarian crisis that the planet is experiencing, with 1.3 million children with severe malnutrition. "The price of food has tripled and in the midst of the pandemic there is a lack of basic medicines", warns Jameel.

Asked by this newspaper, the Spanish government says that "if it had knowledge or there was a risk of misuse of the materials exported [to Saudi Arabia] it would apply the law and suspend or revoke export authorisations". Madrid claims that it has put in place an ex post certificate, whereby Saudi Arabia would commit not to use the weapons purchased in Spain in the Yemeni war.

For Jameel, this certificate will be a dead letter. "Saudi Arabia only has good words: that it is working to pacify Yemen and to replace its president, that the war will soon be over, but none of this has been fulfilled. Whoever sells arms in Riyadh knows that he is collaborating with its crimes".