The UK is set to resuming selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite evidence that the country has committed war crimes in Yemen; the government has defended the decision stating that said crimes were “isolated incidents”.
Liz Truss, the government’s International trade secretary, has stated that they have completed a review of how arm export licences were granted and whilst there were some “credible incidents of concern" related to Saudi forces, these were “isolated incidents".
In a statement released, Liz Truss stated:
"The incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL [international humanitarian law] occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons […] The undertaking that my predecessor gave to the Court – that we would not grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen – falls away."
This statement follows, an announcement from the UK Foreign Secretary that the government would introduce a "sanctions regime that will target people who have committed the gravest human rights violations" and that "Global Britain will be an even stronger force for good in the world, in the years ahead".
Saudi’s war crimes
In 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition to intervene in Yemen against Houthi rebels. This coalition has been heavily criticised for its brutal campaign which has breached international humanitarian law and includes crimes such as bombing schools, hospitals, weddings, and food infrastructure.
UNICEF has described the situation as a crisis of “cataclysmic proportions” which has cost an estimated 100,000 lives and left 80 per cent of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance.
Since Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen in 2015, Britain has issued export licences worth £5.3 billion, including £2.5 billion of licences relating to bombs, missiles, and other types of ordinance.
In June 2019, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the government had acted illegally in selling arms to Yemen without adequately accessing incidents of war crimes.
"Disgraceful and morally bankrupt"
The decision to resume arms sales with Saudi Arabia has been widely panned by opposition political parties as well as rights-based organisations.
Andrew Smith, the media coordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, decried the decision, describing it as "disgraceful and morally bankrupt". He further stated that it exposed the "rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy".
"The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made has played a central role in the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers and will be exploring all options available to challenge it," he added.
Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam, has also condemned the decision as "nothing short of cruel". He further stated:
“It’s shocking that less than a week after signing up to a UN Security Council resolution for a global ceasefire, the UK government is announcing a resumption of weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. The UK should not licence arms to a country that has led a coalition in their bombardment of Yemen over more than five years," […] “Even before the coronavirus hit, Yemen was already facing the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis and had seen its hospitals and clinics decimated in the conflict. It’s nothing short of cruel that the government should take the decision to restart sales to Saudi Arabia at such a time.”
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