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16th Feb 2019

Lords committee finds UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia unlawful

A report says UK weapons ‘highly likely to be cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen’

Oli Dugmore

ADEN, YEMEN - SEPTEMBER 24: Aish Abduallah Jaber al-Abri, 55, waits to be fitted for a set of prosthetic limbs at a government health clinic on September 24, 2018 in Aden, Yemen. Jaber al Abri stepped on a landmine in Al Khawkhah and has waited two years to be fitted for a pair of prothetic legs. A coalition military campaign has moved west along Yemen's coast toward Hodeidah, where increasingly bloody battles have killed hundreds since June, putting the country's fragile food supply at risk. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

A report says UK weapons are ‘highly likely to be a cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen’

It’s “highly likely” UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have caused “significant” civilian casualties, an all-party Lords committee has said.

The House of Lords international select committee has ruled that Britain is “narrowly on the wrong side” of international law due to its providing weaponry to the Saudi regime during a bloody four-year civil war in Yemen.

A report said Saudi assurances it’s not deliberately killing civilians is not an “adequate way” to fulfil commitments under international arms trade agreements.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Amnesty International activists march with homemade replica missiles bearing the message 'Made in Britain, destroying lives in Yemen' across Westminster Bridge, past Parliament and to Downing Street during a protest over UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia on March 18, 2016 in London, England. The missiles are replicas of the 500lb 'Paveway-IV' weapon which are currently used by Saudi Arabia's UK supplied Eurofighter Typhoon war planes. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

In 2018 the United Nations estimated nearly 7,000 civilians had been killed in Yemen, and more than 10,000 injured, but acknowledged the real figures were likely much higher. The civil war is a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, after Iran-backed Houthi rebels made significant gains in the country.

The committee’s report says the suffering of Yemeni civilians “unconscionable.” Air strikes in an area of Yemen alongside its border with Saudi Arabia are at their most intense for the whole four year conflict, the Yemen Data Project reports.

“The government asserts that, in its licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law,” the select committee says. “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 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.

“[The committee 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.”