On Monday, the UK parliament scrutinised the government's decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. This followed an Urgent Question.
The decision was announced last week in a written statement by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss. The government concluded that any violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by the Saudi coalition were 'isolated incidents', despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.
In June 2019, 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. This followed a case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government admitted multiple breaches of the ban on new licences.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:
£2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
£2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
In reality the figures are far higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system. The UK's biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.CAAT is considering all legal options to challenge the government's decision.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "We are glad that this decision has been scrutinised in parliament, but a decision of this magnitude should not have needed all the opposition parties to come together in order to force the government to answer questions.
These arms sales are illegal, immoral and deadly. The decision to resume them can only prolong the war and increase the bloodshed. The government is always telling us how robust its arms export controls are, but nothing could be further from the trust. This brutal bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK.
The government says that possible breaches of international law are 'isolated incidents', but there have been hundreds of them. These are not statistics, they are people's lives. Saudi forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes. They have turned gatherings into massacres and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on Yemen. We are considering all legal options to challenge this appalling decision."
Campaign Against the Arms Trade - www.caat.org.uk
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