18 March 2015 – Washington, DC – Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), welcome the Swedish government’s decision to end a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi government that, among other provisions, facilitated the sale of Swedish-manufactured arms to Saudi Arabia. In 2014 alone, the agreement allowed the Saudi government to purchase $39 million in military equipment from Sweden.
Official Saudi action immediately precipitated the decision to discontinue the memorandum. Arab League commissioners, meeting in Cairo, had invited Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström to speak in front of their assembly. Saudi representatives, however, blocked her from delivering remarks which would have advocated for democracy, strengthening human rights, and upholding the rights of women. In response, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced on 10 March 2015 that his government would not renew the weapons agreement. Saudi officials then recalled their ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad al-Ibrahim. Saudi allies in the region, human rights violators themselves, denounced the speech. The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Minister Wallstrom’s criticism of Saudi policies counted as “a blatant interference and a rejected infringement against the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Though Sweden’s choice to halt its arms trade with Saudi Arabia, which in 2014 became the largest importer of military equipment, is a welcome development, the Swedish government can take further action that will push the Saudi government and other human rights violators to recognize their international commitments. In December 2008, the Council of the European Union adopted the Common Position governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, which lists “respect for human rights in the country of final destination” as a prime criterion for approving arms exports. The international community, including the United States and EU member states, the United Kingdom prominent among them, must end their longstanding arms deals with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other human rights violators.