MPs to investigate use of British weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen 'humanitarian disaster'

The Committee on Arms Export Control has launched an inquiry into whether export controls have been broken

Jon Stone@joncstone
Thursday 10 March 2016 13:37
A Yemeni man waves his national flag as he stands amid the ruins of a school and a bowling club hit by an air-strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, in the capital Sanaa,
A Yemeni man waves his national flag as he stands amid the ruins of a school and a bowling club hit by an air-strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, in the capital Sanaa,

MPs have launched an investigation whether British-made arms are being used by Saudi Arabian forces in a widely-criticised military campaign in Yemen.

The Committee on Arms Export Control will probe whether export control rules have been broken – after the United Nations warned of a “humanitarian disaster” and widespread attacks on civilians in the assault.

The inquiry will “examine if weapons manufactured in the UK have been used by the Royal Saudi Armed Forces in Yemen, if any arms export licence criteria have been infringed and discuss what action should be taken in such cases,” the committee says.

Minsters have confirmed they have signed off the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia but say the Saudi Arabians have assured them they are not committing war crimes using British equipment.

Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières have accused Saudi Arabia of bombing multiple hospitals, while others have warned of deadly strikes on weddings and schools.

In a three-month period late last year figures released by the business department showed the sales of bombs and munitions to Saudi Arabia by British firms had increased from £9 million to over £1 billion.

All arms exports from the UK are actively sanctioned by the Government, which issues licenses for deals after scrutinising them.

In December last year the Government was threatened with legal action by campaigners and lawyers for not blocking the flow of guns and bombs to the region.

Lawyers at law firm Leigh Day said it was likely the weapons were being used to “commit serious breaches of international humanitarian law”.

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking to BAE Systems employees in Preston

The European Parliament is the latest body to call for a full arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, following MPs on the House of Commons International Development Committee who also backed a suspension of sales.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade welcomed the MPs’ inquiry and said the sale of weapons “should not have been allowed in the first place”.

“It is one of the most repressive regimes in the world and has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe on Yemen, yet it has enjoyed uncritical political and military support from the UK,” Andrew Smith, of CAAT, said.

“If UK arms exports controls mean anything then the government needs to revoke all extant licences and stop all arms exports.”

Saudi Arabia is intervening in Yemen to protect the internationally recognised Government, which does not control the country's capital. David Cameron earlier this year defended the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“First of all, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for our own security. They are opponents of Daesh and the extremism and terror [they spread],” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“In terms of our arms exports I think we have some of the most stringent controls anywhere in the world and I’ll always make sure they’re properly operated.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that the work done by Saudi Arabia is properly targeted and it’s right that we should do that. We’re working with them and others on behalf of the legitimate government on Yemen.

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