The UK is on “the wrong side of the law” by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and should suspend some of the export licences, an all-party Lords committee has said.
The report by the international relations select committee says ministers are not making independent checks to see if arms supplied by the UK are being used in breach of the law, but is instead relying on inadequate investigations by the Saudis, its allies in the war. It 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.
The Lords’ international relations committee concludes following a short inquiry: “The government asserts that, in its licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law. Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, we assess that 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 contravention of international humanitarian law.”
The committee also asserts that the UK “should immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies, and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition”.
It adds it is “deeply concerned that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of the weaponry is causing – whether deliberately or accidentally – loss of civilian life.
“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.”
The committee, including senior former diplomats, says: “The government should give much higher priority to resolving – not just mitigating – this situation, particularly in light of the tension between its support for the Saudi-led coalition and its role as a major donor of humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict.”
It describes the humanitarian plight of Yemenis as “unconscionable”.
The US Congress voted earlier this week to suspend US arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, but the White House has signalled the president will veto the resolution