BAE Systems has disclosed it is in talks to secure a multi-billion pound arms contract with Saudi Arabia, despite alleged war crimes by the Middle Eastern kingdom using British-made weapons in war-torn Yemen.
“Discussions between BAE Systems, the UK Government and Saudi Arabia are progressing,” the London-headquartered defence company said in a trading update on Thursday.
BAE said it was working to “define the scope and terms of the next five-year Saudi British Defence Cooperation Programme”.
Last month MPs called for a halt to British arms exports to Saudi Arabia pending an investigation into reported breaches of humanitarian and human rights law using British-made weapons.
In a report seen by BBC’s Newsnight’s Gabriel Gatehouse, The Committees on Arms Export Controls said: “The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.”
It said that it was “inevitable” that any such breaches would have involved British arms, meaning the UK would itself be in contravention of international law.
The UK Government said it had received assurances from Saudi Arabia that its armed forces had not committed any violations in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition has opened investigations into a number of incidents and has repeatedly stated it is “is committed to full respect for international humanitarian law in the conduct of our operations in Yemen”.
The current contract is a five-year programme between BAE, the UK Government and Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, BAE, which relies on the Saudi regime for more than one fifth of its revenues provides training, support and upgrades for its Hawk aircraft. BAE also hopes to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets for a reported £4bn under a separate deal.
BAE also announced it was trading in line with expectations and its outlook for the year remained unchanged, with the company predicted to register a 5-10 per cent rise in earnings.
“Discussions with current and prospective operators of Typhoon aircraft continue to support group’s expectations for additional contract awards,” BAE said.
The UK has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Saudi regime for 40 years, including the notorious Al-Yamamah deal.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
BAE was ordered to pay a $400m under a plea bargain with the US Justice Department in 2010 after what was described by the presiding judge as, “deception, duplicity and knowing violations of law, I think it's fair to say, on an enormous scale”.
A new deal would be a lifeline for aircraft factories in the North East of England. Last year, BAE was forced to cut 371 jobs last year as it scaled back production of its Typhoon jets from £1.3bn to £1.1bn.
However, in July it won a £2.1bn support services agreement with the Ministry of Defence and this week was awarded a further £1.3bn contract to build the replacement for the Trident nuclear submarines.Reuse content