Almost £6 billion of UK arms have been licensed to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron took office.
“UK weapons have been central to a bombing campaign that has killed thousands of people, destroyed vital infrastructure and inflamed tensions in the region. The UK has been complicit in the destruction by continuing to support airstrikes and provide arms, despite strong and increasing evidence that war crimes are being committed.”
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) warns that the government’s refusal to suspend current licences to Saudi Arabia, and its decision “to continue the granting of new licences” for military equipment that may be destined for use in Yemen, is unlawful, contravening article two of the EU Council Common Position on arms sales, which would compel the UK to deny an export licence if there was “a clear risk” that equipment might be used in a violation of international humanitarian law.
CAAT have given the government 14 days to suspend licences allowing the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, pending the outcome of a review of its obligations under EU law and its own licensing criteria. A failure to comply would see proceedings against the government, which would force it to explain in the high court what steps it has taken to ensure that UK military hardware is not being used in breach of international law.
A Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood, told parliament last July: “We have not seen any credible evidence that suggests that the [Saudi-led] coalition has breached the law.”
However, Amnesty International has warned of “a pattern of appalling disregard for civilian lives displayed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition”. The UN has expressed similar concerns. Last year Saudi-led coalition strikes hit a Médecins Sans Frontières mobile clinic and hospital and several schools. More than 7,500 people have been killed and over 14,000 others injured since Saudi airstrikes began in Yemen. The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure. Saudi coalition strikes are alleged to have targeted electricity and water plants.
Meanwhile, Britain’s College of Policing has trained 270 police officers from Saudi Arabia despite the state’s poor human rights record, which includes torture and the death penalty. Human rights groups are demanding the college, which is a sub-body of the Home Office, disclose the kind of training it has given the Gulf state. But the educational body is refusing to release this information.
Maya Foa of human rights group Reprieve also argued the college should be more transparent, particularly in a climate of heightened concern over torture in Saudi Arabia. “The Home Office has serious questions to answer over the relationship between British police and Saudi forces, who are responsible for serious human rights abuses such as torture," she said. "Given that the Saudis are executing record numbers of people – including political protesters who were tortured and convicted in secret courts, some when they were just teenagers – the government’s refusal to reveal details of its cooperation with the Saudis is totally unacceptable. The Home Secretary must explain urgently why she is risking UK complicity with these terrible abuses.”