While the Dutch parliament has taken a step to chastise Saudi Arabia for its abhorrent human rights record, voting in favour of banning arms exports to the country, Canada’s prime minister reasserted a controversial arms deal with the kingdom won’t be cancelled.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau, visiting UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, where he formally announced Canada would bid for a seat on the Security Council, said his newly-elected government could not renege on a deal secured by the previous one.
“Canada is a country of the rule of law, a country of democratically elected government, and regardless of how we may feel about a previous government, the fact is they were democratically elected. They signed on to a contract and we are bound to respect that contract,” Trudeau said of the $15-billion arms deal the Conservatives signed to supply light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudis.
The deal would see London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems Canada manufacture LAVs for the Saudi military, providing some 3,000 people jobs in the process. But human rights groups warn arms sent to Saudi Arabia could be used against civilians and government opposition groups.
The bill put before Dutch lawmakers Tuesday referenced Saudi Arabia’s rising tally of executions, 73 so far this year, and its bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen, which has led to more than 6,000 deaths — half of them civilians. A UN panel report leaked in January said the kingdom’s assault on civilian targets were “widespread and systematic attacks” and a violation of international humanitarian law.
The Netherlands is the first country in the European Union to adopt such a ban, following European Parliament motion in February urging member nations to put a halt on arms trade with a government that is widely viewed as an ally to Western governments.
There has been growing public pressure on governments, including in Canada, to cease arms trade with Saudi Arabia.
The Liberal government said last month it would review Saudi Arabia’s rights record when taking future deals into consideration, but has maintained it would not cancel a $15-billion deal brokered by the previous Conservative government.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told a Feb. 29 Senate meeting the Liberal government didn’t approve of the deal but would permit it to stand.
The Saudi government was on the defensive earlier this month, calling criticism of the deal “sensationalized and politicized.”
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not accept any interference in its jurisdiction or internal affairs by any party,” the Globe and Mail reported the Saudi embassy in Ottawa saying in a statement.
Canada is not the only government facing calls to halt arms trade with Saudi Arabia.
The U.K. sold more than $5.5 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia in the first three months of 2015, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Germany, which sold approximately $260 million in arms to Riyadh in the first half of last year, said it will take Saudi human rights violations into consideration moving forward but, like Canada, won’t call off previously negotiated deals.
With files from The Canadian Press