Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir gives a speech at Peking University in Beijing, China, August 31, 2016.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir gives a speech at Peking University in Beijing, China, August 31, 2016.
Photo Credit: Jason Lee

Saudi Arabia pressures Canada over stance on Yemen war: report

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The Canadian embassy in Riyadh has faced pressure and threats by Saudi officials unhappy with Ottawa’s calls for an immediate end to hostilities in war-ravaged Yemen and an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses committed by all sides, according to reports in Saudi opposition media.

Citing an anonymous source “close to the Canadian embassy,” the UK-based Al-Khaleej Online Arabic-language publication reported last week that Saudi officials have exerted sustained pressure on Canadian diplomats “to stop the Canadian campaign against the war in Yemen” and have threatened to withdraw unspecified Saudi investments in Canada.

Saudi Arabia, the Canadian defence industry’s largest client outside the United States, has been mired in a vicious conflict with the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement in Yemen since March 2015 when it led a coalition of Gulf monarchies and Arab states to intervene on behalf of the ousted but internationally recognized President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), by mid-December, the conflict in Yemen had killed over 5,550 civilians and injured over 9,000, it has also caused the world’s largest epidemic of cholera, which has affected nearly 1 million people and counting, and has brought the Middle East’s poorest country to the brink of a famine.

Children rest on a bed at their family hut at a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen November 12, 2017.
Children rest on a bed at their family hut at a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen November 12, 2017. © ABDULJABBAR ZEYAD

About three-quarters of Yemen’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million children. The UN estimates that at least 60 per cent of Yemenis are now food insecure and 16 million people do not have access to safe water and proper sanitation.

Officials at Global Affairs Canada refused to comment on allegations reported in Al-Khaleej Online.

“Canada engages with Saudi Arabia on a range of issues including human rights and regional security,” Global Affairs spokesperson Amy Mills said in an email to Radio Canada International.

“We do not comment on diplomatic correspondence between the Government of Canada and other governments.”

‘Deeply concerned’
Smoke rises during the battle between former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s supporters and the Houthi fighters in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2017.
Smoke rises during the battle between former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s supporters and the Houthi fighters in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2017. © Mohamed Al-Sayaghi

However, Canadian officials reiterated their deep concern by the conflict in Yemen, “which has had a devastating and unacceptable impact on innocent civilians.”

“At the September 2017 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Canada co-sponsored a resolution which requested the establishment of a group of eminent international and regional experts to investigate and report on the human rights situation in Yemen and to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of human rights since 2014,” said a written statement by Global Affairs sent to RCI.

“Canada continues to call on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to end the civilian casualties, including those of humanitarian and medical personnel, and to allow and facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance to civilians in need. We urge all parties to the conflict to resume peace negotiations.”

Eric Schallenberg, a communications officer with the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), the bargaining agent and the professional association of Canadian diplomats, said none of the members posted to Saudi Arabia had reported any pressure or threats during their work in the kingdom.

The Saudi embassy in Ottawa did not respond to the RCI’s request for an interview and offered no written comments.

Irked by Ottawa?
A man carries the body of a girl recovered from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen August 25, 2017.
A man carries the body of a girl recovered from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen August 25, 2017. © Khaled Abdullah

Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs and a critic of Saudi kingdom’s human rights record, said while Canada’s position on the war in Yemen is similar to other Western countries that have tacitly supported the Saudi intervention, Riyadh has been irked by Ottawa’s call for an international investigation by independent experts.

While all sides in Yemen’s brutal fratricide turned into a proxy war between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have been criticized for horrific human rights abuses, the Saudi-led coalition has been singled out for its aerial attacks against critical civilian infrastructure in the rebel-controlled areas, targeting ports, power generation plants, water filtration and sanitation facilities, schools and hospitals.

In addition, after the Houthi rebels fired ballistic missiles at Riyadh in early November, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a near total blockade of Yemen’s sea, air and land ports of entry, prompting the international community, including Canada, to voice its concerns over the deterioration of the already desperate humanitarian situation.

Al-Ahmed said if true, the alleged Saudi pressure and threats would be very typical of the way the kingdom operates internationally.

“They did it with the French, they did with other countries, with the Turks, with the Germans, for example, they pulled their ambassador after a statement,” Al-Ahmed said. “They do these things with certain countries they think they can push around.”

Lucrative trade ties
In this photos provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, right, meets Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird in his office in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The two discussed bilateral relations and regional and international events.
In this photos provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, right, meets Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird in his office in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The two discussed bilateral relations and regional and international events. © AP

According to Global Affairs, in 2016 bilateral trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia stood at nearly $3 billion.

That same year, Canada’s defence industry exported over $142.2 million worth arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, making it the number one destination for Canadian defence exports, outside the United States.

In 2016, the Trudeau government also approved the highly controversial deal to sell $15 billion worth of advanced Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV 6.0) to Saudi Arabia signed under the previous Conservative government.

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2 comments on “Saudi Arabia pressures Canada over stance on Yemen war: report
  1. ursula wagner says:

    I must say it sounds a bit ridiculous from Canada to call on Saudi Arabia to stop the
    war in Yemen. It it like giving a child a toy, but don`t play with it.

    As long as all western countries, with their such good values, allow their weapon factories to make big business with Saudi Arabia, there will be no change.

    Just have seen a report on German TV, that really made me furious. Germany`s attitude,
    officially having very strict laws, where it is allowed to sell weapons too, doesn`t
    at all interfere into our largest weapon comp. Rheinmetall, they produce in Italy,
    Sardinia munition, that goes directly to Saudi A. and is found again in Yemen.

    Further more they produce together with a comp. in South Africa weapons and even built
    39 munitions factories, according to Rheinmetall, 1 in Saudi A., 1 in Egypt, 1 in Algeria, no more information from Rheinmetall.
    And of course these weapons go to places like the Middle East too.

    Shame on German gov. and all the others. But there is a close connection between gov.
    and weapons industry here, as a former German defence minister is in a high position at
    Rheinmetall.

    Very interesting is listen to the former South African ANC member and journalist Andrew Feinstein, who has done part of the German report.
    For those who understand German:

    http://www.daserste.de/information/reportage-dokumentation/dokus/videos/bomben-fuer-die-welt-video-102.html

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/yemen-war-weapons_us_55b25ca8e4b0074ba5a4483f

  2. Peter Ashcroft says:

    The conflict of might versus right. Ironic population control.