Authorities divided over Saudi Arabia policy
ROME – The government’s sale of arms to Riyadh is once again a cause of controversy, as Five Star move to block the deals in parliament and port authorities in Genoa threaten to boycott a suspect ship.
Italy has sold arms to Saudi Arabia since Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s series of deals in 2016, which were worth some 411 million euros. This has always been a sensitive topic, since the Saudi Arabian government is widely believed to use them against civilians in Yemen, and is posed to once again become a serious cause of division within government.
M5S senator and head of the party’s Foreign Affairs Committee Gianluca Ferrara has set up a debate in parliament to discuss the matter, calling for “human concerns over business.” Undersecretary for Foreign affairs Gianluca Picchi will be questioned on Law 185, which authorises the sale of arms to foreign powers.
Ferrara explained that he had asked for a parliamentary questioning to “learn why we are not preparing to cancel the supply of RWM aerial bombs sold by the Renzi government to Said Arabia, which are used in Yemen in violation of international directives.” The bombs in question are produced in Domusnovas, Sardinia, by RWM Italia, an arms manufacturer.
Meanwhile, the request by Amnesty International and other agencies to prevent a ship suspected of carrying arms from docking may be taken up by port authorities in Genoa. The Bahri Yanbu, which is coming from the US, is said by Reuters to be carrying arms to Saudi Arabia, but French president Emmanuel Macron has insisted these are not for use in Yemen.
The port authorities and Filt Cgil, the Italian transport federation, are asking for clarification on the matter. They are obliged by international law to verify, in the transfer of arms to a country at war (such as Saudi Arabia with Yemen), that the weapons will not be used to commit war crimes or to violate human rights.
Conflict in Yemen has been ongoing since 2015, when civil war erupted between the government and the Houthi movement, an Islamic armed group that had been active since the 1990s and led in 2015 by former-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (now dead). Houthi forces overthrew the government in March 2015, helped in part by Islamic State (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia has led attempts to restore the former internationally-recognised Yemen government of President Hadi.
The actions of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition are contentious because they involve a naval blockade and widespread bombing, including of civilian targets. Yemen is undergoing a humanitarian disaster, with all sides accused of violating international law, while the country has also provided a safe-haven for various armed groups and militias.
In particular, widespread and serious famine, the largest cholera outbreak in modern times and armed violence has affected millions of Yemeni civilians. Among countries which still sell arms to Saudi Arabia are the US, UK, France, Germany and Spain.