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Arms exports to Saudis ‘unlawful’

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UK government, arms exports, Saudi Arabia, House of Lords, Select Committee, civilian deaths, civilians injured, staravtion, humanitarian aid, Report finds UK arms exports ‘highly likely to be cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen’.

The House of Lords International Relations Committee has said that it believes that the government is narrowly on the wrong side of international humanitarian law on arm sales to Saudi Arabia given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, and that they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen.

This is the first unanimous report from a parliamentary committee describing Saudi arms export sales as unlawful, and comes ahead of an imminent high court appeal by campaigners to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the grounds they are in breach of humanitarian law.

Following an evidence session with Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Minister of State at the Department for International Development, the House of Lords International Relations Committee published a report calling on the government to address the root causes of the “unconscionable” humanitarian crisis in Yemen: the conflict itself.

Unconscionable, to be clear, means: shockingly unfair or unjust; or excessive, unreasonable; or not guided or controlled by conscience; or unscrupulous.

The report expresses deep concern that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of their weaponry is causing – whether deliberately or accidentally – loss of civilian life.

And it found that 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.

It also called 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, and to be prepared to suspend the licensing of some arms to the Saudi-led coalition.

Drawing attention to the “tension” between the government’s  support for the Saudi-led coalition and its role as a major donor of humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict, 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 licences 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 – resulting from the peace talks between the parties to the conflict in December 2018 – 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 for example 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; and

Redouble its diplomatic efforts with all external actors – particularly the USA, 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.

Commenting on the report, the Chair of the 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.”

To read the full report, click here.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s aerial and ground campaign against Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh began on 26 March 2015, in support of the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and has been supported by the United States and the United Kingdom.

It continued throughout 2016.

As of 10 October 2016, at least 4,125 civilians had been killed and 7,207 wounded since the start of the campaign, the majority by coalition airstrikes, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

And it did not end there.

At least 26 children were killed in a round of airstrikes in Yemen in August 2018, the United Nations said.

And war and economic collapse have driven around 10 million people to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, who headed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2018, said at the time he was deeply concerned by the proximity of attacks to humanitarian sites, including health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure.

“The UN and partners are doing all they can to reach people with assistance. Access for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need is critical to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” he told The Guardian in 2018.

“People need to be able to voluntarily flee the fighting to access humanitarian assistance too.

“The parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and those with influence over them must ensure that everything possible is done to protect civilians.”

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