Government 'on the wrong side of international law' on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
February 18, 2019

The Government asserts that, in its licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the current hostilities in Yemen, it is “narrowly on the right side” of international humanitarian law. The House of Lords International Relations Committee disagrees and believes it is “narrowly on the wrong side”, and the Government should be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition.

The  Committee has published a report calling on the Government to address the root causes of the “unconscionable” humanitarian crisis in Yemen: the conflict itself. The report finds that, given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, UK arms exports are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties, risking the contravention of international humanitarian law. It calls on the Government to immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies. It also urges the Government to be prepared to suspend the licensing of some arms to the Saudi-led coalition.

The Committee took evidence from Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and Minister of State, Department for International Development (DfID), Dr Louise Walker, Head of Office, Yemen, DfID, and James Downer, Yemen Team FCO, on 16 January 2019, in order to produce this short report to inform the House of Lords about the current situation in Yemen and to raise issues for the Government to address.

Despite the Minister’s assertion that the UK’s involvement in the supply of arms to the Saudi-led coalition does not contradict the Government’s valuable contribution as a major donor of humanitarian relief to Yemen, the Committee advocates a shift in the UK’s approach.

The House of Lords International Relations Committee is calling on the Government to:

  • Give much higher priority to resolving – not just mitigating – the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
  • Condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, and be prepared to suspend some key export licenses to members of the coalition. Relying on assurances by Saudi Arabia and Saudi-led review processes is not an adequate way of implementing the obligations for a risk-based assessment set out in the Arms Trade Treaty.
  • Signal that failure by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Iran to back the Stockholm Agreement in deeds as well as words would have negative consequences for the UK’s relations with them.
  • Do all it can to support the work of Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen. It should put its weight behind the UN peace process and should consider appointing a Special Representative, based in London, to speak to all parties concerned.
  • Be more willing to use its role as penholder at the UN Security Council to intervene if peace talks are not progressing and if blockages arise.
  • Redouble its diplomatic efforts with all external actors – particularly the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran – to keep them committed to the Hodeidah ceasefire, and its extension to Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen.

Chairman of the House of Lords International Relations Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford, said: “The humanitarian situation in Yemen is unconscionable. That the UK is the second-largest exporter of arms to Saudi-Arabia, and the fifth-largest donor of humanitarian aid in Yemen is a contradiction which the Government must address as a matter of urgency.

“It is always the case that export licensing decisions for the sale of arms require fine judgements, balancing legitimate security concerns against human rights implications. We do not agree with the Government’s assertion that it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law in the case of licensing arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition. It is narrowly on the wrong side: 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 violation of international humanitarian law. The Government must address the root causes of the suffering—the conflict itself—and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to Saudi-Arabia and members of the coalition.”

* Read Yemen: giving peace a chance here

* Lords International Relations Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/international-relations-committee/

[Ekk/6]

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