Saudi Arabia’s potentially illegal bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, currently being investigated by the United Nations, is helping to grow sales of fighter aircraft made by BAE Systems, according to Amnesty International.
Amnesty International says that that financial figures from the British-based multi-national defence contractor, reveal that a net gain of close to £1 billion over the last year in the company’s UK division is down to continuing sales and engineering support of its Eurofighter Typhoon jet to the Royal Saudi Air Force.
BAE stongly denied that sales to Saudi Arabia were helping fuel the conflict in Yemen, and that their improved sales were related to the bombing campaign.
Details of fighter jet sales, and UK-manufactured missiles, both licenced by the UK government, are examined in a UN report currently being studied by the Security Council.
The Saudi-led coalition of nine Sunni states began its attacks on Houthi-controlled areas of neighbouring Yemen in March last year. The airstrike campaign and naval blockade has so far claimed the lives of over 6,000 civilians.
Bombing raids on schools, medical facilities, mosques and markets, according to the UN, have violated international humanitarian laws, with regions of Yemen facing acute levels of famine.
Amnesty International alleges that although BAE’s military-related sales contracted in recent years, the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, alongside plans for further Saudi involvement in bombing in Syria, helped improve operating profits last year from £1.3 billion to £1.5 billion.
According to the company’s own figures for 2015, the Saudi military market helped boost its overall performance. Sales increased by £1.3 billion to £17.9 bn.
In 2005 the Saudi government placed an order with BAE for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. The company described 2015 sales as part of an “existing order”.
David Cameron recently told the Commons that the Saudis were being encouraged to abide by humanitarian laws. However Amnesty International said the new sales figures should act as warning to BAE’s shareholders.
Amnesty’s arms trade director, Oliver Sprague, told The Independent: “They [shareholders] need to realise that a large part of the company’s profits is coming from the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia at the very time Saudi’s military coalition in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians.”
Warning the UK government to “stop cheerleading BAE’s lucrative arm sales” and to suspend export licences for further arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Mr Sprague added “There is strong evidence that that the present weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are not just ill-advised but actually illegal.
The Saudi-led operation claims to have targeted only Houthi military targets. However the UN report documents multiple attacks on civilian populations.
The company said: "Deliveries of aircraft to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2015 were part of contract signed in 2007 and the delivery schedule is determined years in advance.
"We provide defence equipment and support to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a Government to Government agreement. The export of any defence equipment is strictly regulated and the UK operates one of the most stringent arms control regimes in the world."