A lawmaker in President Emmanuel Macron’s party is asking for a parliamentary investigation into the legality of French weapons sales to a Saudi-led coalition over concerns the arms are being used to kill civilians in Yemen.
Pressure has been mounting on Macron to scale back military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are leading the coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.
“I am submitting a request for a commission of inquiry knowing that France ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty,” Sebastien Nadot, a lawmaker elected last year as part of hundreds of new parliamentarians that form Macron’s majority, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“On the question of French weapons being used against civilian populations in Yemen, I want to know if France is respecting its international commitments.”
It remains to be seen whether Nadot will get the necessary backing from other lawmakers to set up the inquiry committee.
The move by Nadot is surprising in that Macron has faced little opposition in parliament since coming to power last year and commands an overwhelming majority, with few of his lawmakers willing to question the executive’s decisions.
Unlike many of its allies, French export licensing procedures have no parliamentary checks or balances. They are approved through a committee headed by the prime minister that includes the foreign, defence and economy ministries.
Details of licenses are not public and, once approved, are rarely reviewed.
“Parliament must be able to control whether these weapons are sold in respect of international law,” Nadot said.
“If we are just a transmission belt, and not (a) body of control and evaluation, then abstention (in elections) has a bright future ahead of it.”
Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll showed on Monday. Several rights groups have warned of possible legal action if the government does not halt its sales.
France is the world’s third biggest arms exporter and counts the two countries among its biggest purchasers.
While some European countries, notably Germany, have curtailed ties with the Saudi-led military coalition, France, Britain and the United States have not followed suit.