Saudi Arabia bought 60% of Walloon weapons sold in 2015, a revelation that prompted Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders to apologise before the Belgian Parliament.
The importance of the arms deal with the Saudi regime created an uproar, especially after Belgium country voted in favour of Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Women’s Rights Commission.
While Wallonia last year sold 1,369 weapons to 68 countries and only 34 of these went to Saudi Arabia, the contracts there represent a record total of €575.8 million, or 60% of Walloon turnover in the sector. The previous record dates from a year earlier, when the Belgian region sold €396.9 million worth of weapons to Riyadh.
Arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which is involved in the conflict in Yemen, in 2015 consisted of firearms (€396 million), guns or mortars (€7.6 million), ammunition (€105 million), vehicles (€5.18 million) and tanks, armoured vehicles and weapons parts (€58 million).
Concerning the vote on the Women’s Rights Commission, foreign minister Reynders emphasised during his speech before the Belgian Federal Parliament on his commitment to defending human rights and equality between men and women.
The minister also stressed that he is ready to hold a debate on relations between Belgium and Saudi Arabia and supported an arms embargo on the kingdom.
Reynders said federal authorities in Belgium would not support developing cooperation with Saudi Arabia unless relations between the two countries were clarified.
The election of Saudi Arabia to membership of the UN Women’s Rights Commission for the period from 2018-22 has raised questions in the West, especially after the kingdom was recorded at the bottom of the international gender equality list in 2016.
According to media reports, 47 out of the 54 United Nations Economic and Social Council member states voted in favour of Saudi Arabia.
According to UN Watch at least four other European countries said yes to Saudi Arabia in a secret vote.
The competence to oversee foreign arms exports in Belgium has since 2003 been assigned to the individual regions. The Flemish, Walloon, and Brussels Capital Regions are currently responsible for issuing licences for the import and export of military equipment. Now that also the Walloon Region has reported on its licensing practices in 2011, we are given insight into the total Belgian arms export conducted in the course of the past year: together, the Regions issued arms export licences totalling €879.7 million, three quarters of that being for Wallonia’s account (€ 644.1 million). Flanders accounts for the remainder (€ 200.9 million), complemented further by a minor share of Brussels export and export by the Belgian armed forces.
The defence industries in the Flemish and Walloon Regions differ fundamentally. The Walloon defence industry has been particularly geared to the export of ‘conventional’ firearms and explosives, with FN Herstal being the standard bearer. Such finished products are being exported worldwide and in the process also find their way to conflict regions. The end users of the Walloon arms are generally known at the time of export, but there is more than ample evidence to show that guarantees and controls are not adequate measures to prevent the re-export and rerouting of arms shipments. As such, Belgian arms make their way to the Al-Quds brigades in Gaza, to Congolese rebels, or to militia groups in Mali.