A human rights organization called it a "victory for mobilized civil society" when a Saudi cargo ship left France on Friday without a planned batch of weapons.
France, along with other Western countries including the U.S. and U.K., has been supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition bombing Yemen. In so doing, say human rights campaigners, they "risk complicity in committing grave violations of the laws of war."
Leaked classified French military documents published last month showed that French weapons are being widely used in the coalition's bombing campaign "including in civilian zones." The conflict has already killed thousands of civilians.
Fearing that the new shipment of weapons could be used against the Yemeni civilian population, French rights group Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France) filed a legal challenge Thursday to block a new batch of French weapons from being loaded onto the Saudi vessel the Bahri Yanbu at the French port city of Le Havre. The ship had been anchored 15 miles offshore since late Wednesday.
The weapons, said ACAT, would violate one article of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.
"The article says that one country cannot authorize the transfer of weapons, if at the time of the authorization, the country knew that weapons could be used to commit war crimes," said lawyer Joseph Brehem, speaking on behalf of ACAT.
While ACAT didn't win their case, the ship nonetheless did not dock to pick up the shipment, but instead moved on to Spain.
A French judge threw out that legal challenge but the Bahri-Yanbu set course for Santander shortly after minus the weapons, officials said and ship-tracking data showed.
The saga is an embarrassment for [French] President Emmanuel Macron, who on Thursday defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
ACAT-France praised the development, saying that it happened not as a result from a judge but because of an activated citizenry who sounded alarm about the weapons.
It's clear, said Bernadette Forhan, president of the organization, "that French civil society can constitute a real opposition force to international interests that undermine the fundamental rights of millions of people."