France is one of the major arms exporter countries in the world. The French government’s 2008 annual arms exports report to parliament shows that France roughly ranks as the world’s fourth largest weapons exporter (7.7 per cent of worldwide sales), behind the United States (52.3 per cent), the United-Kingdom (13.7 per cent), and the Russian Federation (8.2 per cent).
As an arm exporter, the country has an obligation of due diligence towards human rights when carrying out arms transfers. In particular, according to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), states must ensure that their arms exports are not used to perpetrate or facilitate crimes of gender-based violence.
WILPF is constantly denouncing situations in which arms transfers violate the ATT and human rights in general and recently we seized the opportunity of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) review of France to submit a report on the impact of French arms transfers to women’s human rights in other countries. We presented it last July to the Committee with the participation of our French Section.
France arms exports
There has been no inflection of the trade of small arms by France since the ratification of the ATT. On the contrary, France signed arms export contracts worth 6.87 billion in 2013, up more than 42% from the previous year. The exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) also have drastically increased from 495 pieces exported in 2011 to 1063 in 2013 (3044 if we include non-lethal projectiles).
France mainly exports SALW to its former colonies, Mali and Morocco being the main ones between 2011 and 2014. From 2011, shortly before the start of the internal conflict in the country, Mali is overall France’s main trade partner when small arms are concerned, with an average of 220 automatic pistols per year, and more than 800, according to a report on arms exports released by the French Minister of Defence in 2014.
Sexual violence is used as a mean of repression from the rebels in the areas under occupation: young women are often forced into marriage to cover kidnappings, rapes and sexual slavery. By providing weapons to Mali, France does not comply with due diligence to prevent these practices, since many SALW end up in the hands of the rebels. Indeed, there are firm indications that rebel fighters captured some of this material from the Malian forces (the 2011 conflict in Libya also had an important role).
The arms trade relationship with Saudi Arabia is also of high concern. France exports small arms to this country, but also donates weapons. Saudi Arabia is a country with serious violations of women’s human rights as recognised by CEDAW Committee in its Concluding Observations, it also has violated human rights and humanitarian law when bombing Yemen. Exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia somehow legitimises its actions to the eyes of French authorities, despite its serious human rights violations.
WILPF’s French section has been for a decades deeply committed in advocating for a ban of nuclear weapons. In the report ‘Creating an international gender and peace agenda’, we decided to denounce the responsibilities of French government towards the victims of nuclear testing such as in French Polynesia or in Algeria. We demanded that France explicitly presents its excuses to the Polynesian women and that they compensate its people accordingly. We also urged for France to analyse the specific impact on women’s health and welfare.
Conclusions from the Committee
After a dialogue with the French delegation, the Committee of experts has shown its concern about the arms exports of France and has recommended: “that the State party integrates a gender dimension in its strategic dialogues with the countries purchasing French arms and continue conducting rigorous, transparent and gender sensitive risk assessments, in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (2013). “
The Committee also recommended France to “conduct a rigorous, transparent and gender-sensitive impact assessment of nuclear testing on women’s health in French Polynesia, and accelerate treatment of claims for the compensation of victims.”
WILPF will now closely follow the implementation of these recommendations by France and we will keep denouncing militarism in all its forms and its consequences within or across borders.