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a file more sensitive than ever

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The Ministry of the Armed Forces submits its annual report on French arms exports to Parliament on June 1. A document eagerly awaited by NGOs, who denounce a trade that is too often carried out in the shadows.

Is the ground still so mined in the field of French arms sales abroad? Tuesday 1er June, the French government must make public its annual report on French arms exports and already, Amnesty International published on this occasion a study revealing that nearly three in four French people want more transparency and control from French authorities.

In this same survey conducted online by Harris Interactive from May 13 to 17, 2021, we learn that 72% of the approximately 2,000 people questioned believe that France’s arms trade is contradictory with the values ​​held by the country (such as human rights). human rights or democratic values) and should be the subject of public debate. The study goes even further: it reveals that more than three in four French people think that France should suspend its arms exports to countries involved in civil wars, as in the case of Yemen.


“Urgent and crucial” questions

“These results are not surprising. We can clearly see that the issue of French arms sales abroad is arousing more and more interest among the French,” said Aymeric Elluin, advocacy officer at Amnesty International. , contacted by France 24. For him, these recent realizations have already allowed a “slight improvement” in terms of transparency. In 2020, the 2019 sales report provided more financial elements and data on the quantities of weapons sold. “Nevertheless, there are still too many gray areas, deplores the humanitarian aid. If we want to assess the risks of arms sales from France, we must have a comprehensive view of these exports. However, to this day, we are still missing a lot. “

Of course, the importing countries are well designated in the latest official documents, but the actual recipients, those who will use the weapons, do not appear. The 2020 report reveals, for example, that France sold weapons to Saudi Arabia. But we do not know which corps of weapons they were intended for. “But it is not the same thing to sell weapons to the Saudi National Guard as to its air force. Especially when we know that the coalition engaged in the war in Yemen mainly carries out aerial bombardments, continues Aymeric. Elluin. Emmanuel Macron claims to have guarantees that French weapons are not used in the conflict, but what guarantees are they? We only ask to believe it, but we want documented proof. questions are urgent and crucial: we must ensure that arms transfers comply with France’s international commitments and that French arms will not be used to commit atrocities. “

Lack of interest from elected officials and political will

The survey carried out points to the fact that 80% of French people say they are ill-informed to understand the issues or the consequences of such a subject. “The more the authorities remain opaque, the less we are able to question things, continues the head of Amnesty International. It is therefore up to the government and Parliament to bring this highly sensitive issue to public debate.”

>> To read also: “Arms exports: the government opposed to parliamentary control?”

Article 24 of the Constitution of the Ve Republic moreover stipulates that the Parliament’s mission is to control the action of the government. However, to this day, there is no control over the decisions of the executive power in matters of arms sales. Does this mean that the question does not interest French parliamentarians? In part, say some observers. “Within the Defense Committee itself, some deputies did not read the reports that were sent to them,” regrets Sébastien Nadot, former deputy LREM, member of the new Ecology, Democracy Solidarity group. “But above all, there is no political will to make this information transparent,” assures the deputy for Haute-Garonne. “In France, there is an unspoken practice that these issues remain in the hands of the executive.”

On November 18, 2020, the deputies Jacques Maire (LREM) and Michèle Tabarot (LR) published a report on French arms exports. They proposed in particular to create a power of control of the Parliament on the action of the executive in this field. But these proposals remain at the present time in the form of kind requests.

France lagging behind

This is not the case with our European neighbors. British, German and Dutch parliamentarians have control over arms sales. Some countries, such as the United States, also have real sales traceability. “France prefers to maintain the vagueness in different ways. Sometimes, it does not give all the information, explains the elected. Sometimes, it uses intermediaries by exporting spare parts to another country which will take care of assembling and selling them. to whomever he sees fit. ” In the absence of satisfactory clarity from France, Amnesty International appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation to be carried out. The answer on whether or not to open this investigation is expected during the month of June.

Sensitive to the issue of the use of weapons in Yemen, Sébastien Nadot, then a member of the majority in the Assembly, called in 2017 for the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry on this subject. “I had collected 70 signatures of deputies who supported my approach, recalls the elected. But at the urgent request of the executive, some withdrew their signature. Instead of an investigation, I was suggested to create a simple parliamentary fact-finding mission, which does not make it possible to control. I understood at the end of 2018 that my request would not succeed. There is no political will for better transparency in this area. “

For the deputy, it is above all the Secretariat of Defense and Global Security which holds all the information in this area. “If it had to be done again, I would launch a commission of inquiry on this body. Not because they work badly but to understand their very opaque functioning.” And to conclude: “These gray areas are also detrimental for small French armaments manufacturers. Because of the vagueness maintained, they do not obtain loans from banks, which do not want to take the risk of financing atrocities. . The French armament shoots itself in the foot. “

An “extremely detailed” 2021 report

Contacted by France 24, the Ministry of the Armed Forces ensures that it has worked on the transparency of the 2021 report. “The document which will first be submitted to parliamentarians on Tuesday is extremely detailed, picky, assures Hervé Grandjean, spokesperson for the ministry. It is to this precise point that very often, those who criticize it have not read it entirely because it is a block of 130 pages showing all the amounts and categories of material sold. “

In its desire for transparency, the ministry also wished to highlight this year the number of licenses that have not been granted. “A way of showing that each sale is the subject of extremely in-depth studies, explains Hervé Grandjean. It is an opportunity to understand that France refuses a good number of requests which do not fall within the scope of its commitments. there are also many requests that do not appear in the report because they are the subject of a refusal upstream. ”

State secrets and business secrets

We must also accept that certain gray areas persist, argues Hervé Grandjean. “First because some customers refuse to let the transaction be communicated. And then because there is business secrecy. Finally, there are security realities: France can sell weapons to certain foreign powers such as Egypt to ensure its own security or to fight terrorism. “

Sébastien Nadot still wants to be confident about future transparency on arms sales in France. “Since 2017, there has been a real awakening on these questions among parliamentarians. It is a safe bet that these questions will be part of the presidential campaign. The candidates will have to make commitments. The next National Assembly will therefore naturally be even more sensitive. to this these questions. Perhaps less if the National Assembly obtains a majority. “

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