UK decision to resume weapon sales to Saudi Arabia ‘tantamount to signing death warrants of children’

Decision makes Britain ‘complicit in suffering and murder of youngsters in world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, charity says

Colin Drury
Friday 10 July 2020 16:38 BST
Children have been victims of Yemen Civil War
Children have been victims of Yemen Civil War (Getty)

Britain’s decision to resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia is tantamount to signing the death warrants of thousands of children in the Middle East, a charity has warned.

The UK paused exporting weapons to the kingdom last summer amid fears the hardware was being repeatedly used to commit war crimes in the Yemen Civil War.

But, despite a review finding Saudi forces had continually breached international humanitarian standards since weighing into the conflict in 2015, the British government announced on Tuesday it would continue sales.

Now the charity War Child has added its voice to the growing anger at the decision with bosses calling the ruling “shameful and deadly”.

Rob Williams, chief executive, said: “By allowing these arms sales, the UK will be complicit in the suffering and murder of children in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It is tantamount to signing the death warrants of thousands of children in Yemen.”

Figures compiled by the UN suggest the Saudi coalition has been responsible for killing and injuring at least 3,481 children in the five-year-old conflict – which has also claimed at least 100,000 adult lives and been described by the organisation as a humanitarian crisis “of cataclysmic proportions”.

Schools, hospitals, weddings and food infrastructure have all been bombed. It is said both sides expect the worst of each other and are rarely disappointed.

Colette Fearon, War Child’s director of programmes and advocacy, told The Independent: “The arms the UK are providing to Saudi Arabia flies in the face of all our commitments to protection of children and the upholding of human rights.”

And she added: “To stand up and proclaim to be a supporter of human rights and rules-based systems and, yet, at the same time, trade arms when we know this was declared illegal, is unacceptable.”

The charity’s furious response came after international trade secretary Liz Truss made the announcement of resumed sales on Tuesday.

She admitted Saudi forces had committed “possible” breaches of international humanitarian law but said the government viewed these as “isolated”.

“The incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons,” she said in a statement.

The civil war itself started in 2015 when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, took up arms against the internationally recognised government and claimed large swathes of territory, including the capital.

Saudi Arabia and seven allies weighed in in 2015 in a bid to restore power to the government.

The resulting fighting has left 80 per cent of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance with no sign of an end to the fighting – but, up until last summer’s export pause, had been something of a boon for the UK arms industry.

Since it started, the government has issued export licences worth £5.3bn, including £2.5 billion of licences relating to bombs, missiles and other types of ordinance.

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