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The New Arab Staff

UK government 'complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen', British MPs say

Protesters rally against the Saudi and Emirati involvement in war-torn Yemen in London, England [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 September, 2020

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British MPs have urged the UK government to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, accusing Downing Street of enabling the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The UK government faced renewed criticism during a Thursday parliamentary debate for its ongoing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and was accused of "turning a blind eye" to war crimes in Yemen.

The House of Commons session saw Labour and Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs calling on the government to immediately suspend arms sales to Riyadh so as to "restrict Saudi Arabia’s ability to carry out air strikes on Yemenis and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis".

"While this government are complicit in arming, training and deploying special forces, and all but dropping bombs ourselves, under international law Britain will be party to this conflict," said Labour MP Sam Tarry.

Labour MP Claudia Webbe said it is "shameful" that the UK is "complicit" in the Yemeni conflict.

"The UK supplies weapons and crucial military support to the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities," she said. "British companies should not be allowed to profit from the suffering of the people of Yemen."

SNP MP Patricia Gibson accused the government of selling weapons to Saudi Arabia "so that it can slaughter civilians, while trumpeting their subscription to the global human rights sanction regulations on selling instruments of torture to the Yemenis".

"This government like to boast that Britain upholds peace and justice on the world stage," said Labour MP Zarah Sultana. "Their record in Yemen is the latest example of what a cruel joke that is."

James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said he recognised concerns surrounding the UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but defended the UK's collaboration with Riyadh as a necessity against offensives by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The UK government was also criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia as war-ravaged Yemen deals with what the United Nations calls "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world", compounded with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UN said Wednesday that critical aid had been cut at 300 health centres across Yemen due to a lack of funding, with lifesaving food handouts also reduced.

Between April and August, more than a third of the UN's major humanitarian programmes in Yemen had been reduced or shut down entirely, with further drastic cuts planned.

The UK announced it would resume its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia in July.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the UK determined allegations of civilian deaths in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition to be "isolated incidents", adding that Riyadh has a "genuine intent and the capacity" to comply with humanitarian law.

Despite a 2019 court ruling that banned UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UK has admitted to breaching the ban several times.

Yemen has been left in ruins by six years of war and tens of thousands of people - mainly civilians - have been killed.

Yemen's internationally recognised government has been battling the Houthis since 2014, when the rebels seized much of the north.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the side of the government the following year.

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