UK to resume Saudi arms sales despite humanitarian outcry

UK to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite devastating death toll in Yemen
3 min read
07 July, 2020
The UK will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia after determining the Saudi-led coalition's breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen to be "isolated incidents".
The UK is a key supplier of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
The UK on Tuesday announced it will resume its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite outcry over the devastating civilian death toll caused by the Riyadh-led military campaign in Yemen.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement that while the UK government's sale of weapons to the kingdom is contingent on whether they violate international humanitarian law (IHL), it determined allegations of civilian deaths in Yemen, by the Saudi-led coalition, to be "isolated incidents".

Truss said Saudi Arabia has a "genuine intent and the capacity" to comply with humanitarian law.

"On that basis, I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL," she stated.

Truss said the UK government will begin the process of "clearing the backlog of license applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners" that has accumulated since 20 June 2019.

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

Last year's judgement deemed the government's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen to be "unlawful".

The UK is a key supplier of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

British aeorospace company BAE Systems sold £15 billion ($19 billion) worth of arms and services to Saudi Arabia over the past five years, according to an analysis by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

CAAT, which is mulling over legal options against the UK's move, criticised the government's "disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision" that exposes the "hypocrisy" of UK foreign policy.

"The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and marketplaces," said CAAT's Andrew Smith.

"The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the government to stop supplying the weaponry?"

CAAT also revealed on Tuesday that between September 2016 and March 2017, the UK's Royal Navy provided training to Emirati and Saudi military personnel, despite the devastating siege on Yemen, where millions of people are reliant on aid to survive.

The Royal Air Force also trained 310 Saudi personnel last year at six sites in the UK, with courses still ongoing despite the huge harm that Saudi-led air strikes on cities and towns in Yemen have caused civilians.

The UK licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime since Riyadh intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015, with the government admitting to breaching weapons bans on a number of occasions, CAAT added in a statement.

On the day prior to Truss' announcement, the UK Foreign Office moved to sanction 49 groups and individuals across the world for violating human rights, including Saudi citizens linked to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia is engaged in a proxy war in Yemen, which has created the biggest humanitarian crisis in recent history, according to the United Nations, killing at least 13,000 people, but likely many more.

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