The UK government has announced that it will recommence arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite admitting that the kingdom could be using them to commit war crimes in Yemen.
In a written statement published on Tuesday, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss confirmed that the UK will resume military exports to their key ally in the Gulf region. Weapons sales had been suspended following a landmark UK Court of Appeal ruling in June 2019 which determined that arms sales to the kingdom were unlawful, prompting the government to delay new arms sales while it conducted a review.
Truss said the government had concluded that, while some “credible incidents of concern” had been recognized as “possible” breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL), these were considered to be “isolated incidents” as they occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons.
Truss further claimed that notwithstanding potential historic violations, Saudi Arabia had a “genuine intent” and “capacity to comply with IHL.” LINK
Although it was expected, the announcement left many appalled, coming the day after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that the government was introducing a new “global sanctions regime” which is intended to “target people that have committed the gravest human rights violations.”
Less than a day apart pic.twitter.com/pYZPIAyaoi
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) July 7, 2020
The UK foreign minister also announced on Monday that new sanctions – including asset freezes and visa bans – would be brought against 20 Saudi nationals held responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Humanitarian groups and several UN investigations have accused Saudi-led forces of breaching international humanitarian law, including bombing schools, hospitals, weddings, food producing areas and other essential infrastructure in Yemen since the start of the war against Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in 2015.
The conflict has cost an estimated 100,000 lives, with 80% of Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has described it as a crisis of “cataclysmic proportions.”
Since 2017 the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, established by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has conducted more detailed investigations into the allegations of war crimes being conducted in Yemen. In 2019, their exhaustive report concluded that the US, UK and France are also probably guilty of complicity in the war crimes due to their active support of and participation in the Saudi-led military campaign.
The 2019 report stated:
“The Group of Experts reiterates that steps required to address the human rights and international law violations in Yemen have been continually discussed, and there can no longer be any excuses made for failure to take meaningful steps to address them. The best way to protect the Yemeni population is to stop the fighting by reaching a political settlement which includes measures for accountability.
The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings.”
According to the U.N. report, Saudi and UAE coalitions are killing civilians in air strikes, and deliberately denying them food. The report put blame on all sides of the conflict. Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of Experts on Yemen a creation of the U.N. Human Rights Council, stated:
“Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable. This endemic impunity—for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict—cannot be tolerated anymore.
Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people. The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation.” LINK
The UK’s contempt for international law and wilful ignorance of hundreds of documented cases of war crimes is once again demonstrated by the government’s feeble attempts to justify the resumption of weapons exports to the Saudis.
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