Just a day after imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabian nationals for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the United Kingdom announced on July 7, Tuesday, that it will continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. UK international trade secretary Liz Truss told the British parliament that a government assessment has not been able to establish “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 [International humanitarian law].”
Truss added that the government also reviewed how arms export licenses are granted, and said that they were in compliance with the court ruling last year which had blocked new arms sales to Saudi Arabia over its actions and involvement in the war in Yemen.
Despite vast and significant evidence of the Saudi-led military coalition’s disregard for human life and property as noted by several international agencies, Truss said that the UK government views the repetitive and deliberate targeting and bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen as ‘isolated incidents’. She further claimed that the government had found in the review that Saudi Arabia had “genuine intent and the capacity to comply with International Humanitarian Law.”
The UK has supplied Saudi Arabia with at least 5.3 million British pounds worth of arms and ammunition since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition decided to militarily intervene in Yemen.
Last year in June, the court of appeals had ruled that the government was acting unlawfully by granting arms export licenses for the sale of UK-made arms to the Saudis for use in Yemen. As per the court, licenses were being granted without assessing the adverse impact this would have on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, or if the Saudi military operations would be in contravention of International humanitarian law.
Tuesday’s announcement was squarely and universally condemned by opposition leaders in the parliament as well as by activists and human right groups as ‘morally indefensible’. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) in a statement called the decision ‘morally bankrupt’, with Andrew Smith from CAAT saying that “the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms may have played a central role on the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.”
Human Rights Watch UK director Benjamin Ward, while condemning the move, said, “to justify its cynical resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia the UK government claims that abuses by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are ‘isolated incidents. The truth is that the coalition in Yemen has repeatedly struck homes, schools, markets, weddings and funerals with utter contempt for civilian life.”
According to estimates, more than 100,000 Yemenis have been killed since the war and conflict began, with more than 80% of the population now dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. The war has also resulted in the internal displacement of approximately 3.3 million Yemenis who live in deplorable conditions in internal refugee camps, increasing their vulnerability to COVID-19.