News ID: 175665
Published: 0658 GMT January 13, 2017

Spain plans to sell warships to Saudis amid concerns over Yemen war

Spain plans to sell warships to Saudis amid concerns over Yemen war

Spain is planning to sell warships to Saudi Arabia despite opposition from major human rights groups, which call the potential sale illegal, as Riyadh may use them in their operation against Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Spain's King Felipe VI will today begin a three-day official visit to the Middle Eastern country at the invitation of Saudi Arabia's King Salman, RT reported.

Spanish media has linked this visit to a much anticipated deal to sell Avante 2200 corvettes for an estimated €2 billion ($2.1 billion).

A spokesman for Navantia, a Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company, said that five Avante 2200 corvettes, which are small warships used primarily for offshore patrolling, could be sold for an estimated €2 billion, AFP reported on Thursday.

“We can only confirm that negotiations are very advanced to build five warships which would be sold to the Saudi Navy,” the spokesman said.


‘Illegal’ sale


Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, FundiPau, Oxfam Intermón, and Greenpeace, consider the potential sale illegal.

These groups released a statement on Thursday saying that “Spain could become complicit in atrocities in the conflict in Yemen” as its warships “can be used to carry out direct military attacks against civilians.”

The groups cited UN data which showed that more than 7,000 people, half of whom were civilians, had died in the Yemeni conflict by the end of 2016, and more than 38,000 people had been wounded.

However, a latest tally by a Yemeni monitoring group has said the war has left at least 11,400 people dead.

“Any possible arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen are illegal because it violates Spanish law and international arms trade,” Esteban Beltrán, a director of Amnesty International (AI) in Spain, said.

“The question is: Is the contract legal or illegal? And it is clearly illegal,” Alberto Estevez, an expert on arms sales at the Spanish branch of Amnesty International, told AFP.

In its 2016 report, AI named Spain, along with France, Germany, the UK and the US, as one of the countries “arming and aiding a campaign that’s bombing, killing and starving civilians” in Yemen.

Mario Rodriguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, also called for an investigation into whether “the ammunition, mortar grenades, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, aircraft and armored vehicles” which Spain exported to Saudi Arabia “have been used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen”.

Thursday’s letter is not the first complaint from the NGOs about the sale of Spanish warships to Saudi Arabia. In January 2016, they wrote to Navantia, the shipbuilder, and Spain’s prime minister to express their opposition.

In May 2016, these four human rights groups released a joint report entitled ‘Licenses to kill?’ that said “nearly a third of Spanish arms exports in the first semester of 2015 was destined to the countries of the Saudi-led coalition operating in the war in Yemen since March 2015”.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data from 2015 indicates that Saudi Arabia, which became the world’s second largest arms importer in 2014-2015, “received four tanker aircraft from Spain.”

A United Nations global arms trade treaty ratified in December 2014 bans the sale of weapons that could be used in attacks against civilians. 

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