An influential Westminster committee has ruled that UK government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia are “narrowly on the wrong side” of international humanitarian law and that ministers should suspend some export licences.
The House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations said it was “deeply concerned” that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of weaponry was causing huge loss of civilian life in Yemen’s war.
The committee’s report, entitled ‘Yemen: giving peace a chance‘, was produced to inform the House of Lords about the current situation in Yemen.
Since Yemen’s conflict erupted in 2015 the UK government has been widely condemned for arming a Saudi-led coalition accused of multiple war crimes
The UK government has so far refused to suspend arms sales to the Saudis, arguing they are not in breach of international humanitarian law.
But now the House of Lords committee has disputed that claim and said that the UK government has risked breaking the law.
The committee’s report said there are legitimate reasons for UK arms exports overseas, acknowledging that export licensing decisions for the sale of arms, “always require fine judgements, balancing legitimate security concerns against human rights implications, and each situation must be assessed individually.”
However, the report added: “The government asserts that, in its licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law. Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, we assess that it is that it is narrowly on the wrong side.”
The report continued: “Given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, we believe they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen, risking the contravention of international humanitarian law.
“The UK should immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies, and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition.”
This will add further weight to the growing international pressure on the UK and others to end arms sales to the brutal Saudi regime. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade welcomed the report. “This is a welcome and credible report and will add further weight to the growing international pressure on the UK and others to end arms sales to the brutal Saudi regime,” he said.
“UK-made fighter jets and bombs have played a central role in the bombardment and the destruction. Despite the atrocities and abuses that have been committed, the government’s position has been to push arms sales at all costs. These sales are immoral and illegal.”
Smith added: “The Saudi regime has shown a consistent contempt for human rights and has proven that it cannot be trusted to observe the most basic rights of Saudi people. Yet Downing Street has trusted it to investigate itself for war crimes.
“How much worse does the situation have to get before Theresa May and her colleagues take action?”
Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson, Ross Greer MSP, said: “It is painfully obvious that the UK government has violated international law in their relentless arming and support of the Saudis. This regime has bombed schools, hospitals and even funerals in Yemen, causing a cholera outbreak and mass starvation.
“Even after a direct strike on a school bus killed 42 children, for which there is strong evidence it was carried out with equipment supplied from the UK, the Tories have not let up their support. This is more than a stain on our reputation, it’s complicity in war crimes and it has to stop.”