FIGURES RELEASED by the UK Government show that licences worth at least £42.6 million were issued for arms exports to Saudi Arabia between July and September last year, many of which will be used in the war in Yemen. 

Since the conflict escalated, nearly seven years ago, over four million people have been forced from their homes with over 19,000 civilian casualties.

Martin Butcher, Oxfam’s conflict adviser said: “The UK government’s decision to issue licences allowing £9.6 million of new bombs, missiles and rockets to be exported to Saudi Arabia is immoral and unlawful. British arms have caused death and suffering to Yemenis caught up in this protracted conflict which shows no sign of abating.

“Last month alone, over 400 civilians were killed and injured in Saudi coalition airstrikes.The UK government must end all technical support for military operations in Yemen as well as arms sales that risk being used against civilians in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

“It’s almost four years since the Committees on Arms Export Controls published a report or heard evidence from a Government Minister reflecting a worrying lack of public accountability.

“The United Kingdom is the “penholder” responsible for leading Yemen peace negotiations at the United Nations Security Council. How can our politicians be arming one side in a conflict they’re supposed to be helping to end?”

Figures from the Yemen Data Project show January 2022 was the most violent month in the Saudi-led air war in Yemen in more than five years. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes caused more civilian harm in the first month of 2022 than in the two previous years combined

Oxfam will give evidence at a High Court hearing in June which will again be reviewing the lawfulness of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The UK government amended their Arms Licencing Criteria in December 2021 allowing greater flexibility to grant licences according to their own determination of how licencing of arms sales may affect national security interests.

Arms sales were suspended for around a year in July 2019, after the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law.

Sales resumed after the government carried an internal licencing process audit to determine exports did not contravene International Humanitarian Law. The methodology of this audit has not been made publicly available.

Oxfam is also concerned about the open licences under which unknown amounts of arms and services are sent to Saudi Arabia, avoiding scrutiny by Parliament, press and public.   Without official figures, it is impossible to be accurate, but some analysts worry that sales of arms to Saudi Arabia covered by existing open licences may have increased significantly.

* Read Strategic export controls: licensing statistics: 1 July to 30 September 2021 here.

* Source: Oxfam International