Last night presented a major victory for WILPF Sweden and other disarmament and women’s rights activists, as the Swedish government declared it will not continue a heavily criticised military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia.
While the agreement did not include explicit provisions on specific arms deals, it has been a key driver for Sweden’s increased arms sales to the Saudi regime the last decade. We’re very hopeful that last night’s decision will stop this trend.
No military cooperation with a regime violating human rights
WILPF Sweden has been working hard with other civil society organisations to place respect for women’s human rights at the centre of the debate about the so-called “Saudi agreement.”
WILPF has engaged in advocacy, built a social media campaign, and published op-eds arguing that Sweden cannot have far reaching military cooperation with a regime that systematically and brutally violates women’s rights.
One of our recommendations when the Human Rights Council for its second Universal Periodic Review reviewed Sweden, was that Sweden must stop its arms sales to states that violate human rights.
Despite the interest of economic players, we won the fight
Powerful players, mainly from the private sector, have highlighted export incomes from trading with Saudi Arabia and argued that Sweden must continue the military cooperation.
While little information has been released about the government negotiations between the Social Democratic Party and the Greens, it has been very uncertain whether they would take the step to stop the agreement. While the Greens have a history of opposing arms trade in general, the Social Democrats, on the other hand, have traditionally been very protective of the Swedish arms industry.
But as last night showed, despite the clear interest of major economic players to keep the agreement, the disarmament activists and the women’s rights defenders won this round.
Sweden’s feminist foreign policy
WILPF Sweden has declared this a feminist victory. Sweden’s minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, stated in her first day in office that Sweden will run a feminist foreign policy, and the government has highlighted the gender provisions of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. It would have been impossible to motivate how a feminist policy can entail military deals with Saudi Arabia.
Stopping Swedish arms trade to human rights abusers once and for all
While we’re excited about last night’s news, there is still a more critical debate to be had around Swedish arms exports and human rights.
In April, a parliamentary committee will propose new regulations for Swedish arms exports with the aim to sharpen export controls towards non-democratic states. The pressure is on. The public debate these last weeks has shown a very strong support for putting human rights and gender equality front and centre. Swedes do not want to arm human rights abusers.
Much hard work remains. But last night was a feminist victory that will give us the energy we need to stop Swedish arms trade to human rights abusers once and for all.