The UK Parliament’s international relations committee recently concluded that the UK is on the wrong side of international humanitarian law when it comes to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It’s the first time a parliamentary committee has found UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be unlawful under the country’s own export rules, which prohibit sales when there is a risk they will lead to violations of humanitarian law.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has yet to respond to the committee’s report. But if recent media reports are accurate, he recently asked the German Foreign Minister in a private letter for Germany to ease its ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its negative impact on UK arms sales to Saudi.
Germany has showed leadership on the issue, with Angela Merkel announcing in October, in the wake of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that Germany would halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and urging other EU member states to do the same.
By contrast, the UK government still refuses to call out the coalition over violations in Yemen and its decision to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite the risk that they could be used unlawfully, is being challenged in court.
In its report, the UK committee says that “given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, […] they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen, risking the contravention of international humanitarian law.” The committee added the UK should not rely on Saudi’s assurances and should condemn any further coalition violations of international humanitarian law.
Human Rights Watch’s reporting has found that the Saudi-led coalition’s investigative body, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), has failed to carry out credible investigations into alleged war crimes in Yemen and has fallen short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. In addition, the coalition’s continuing unlawful airstrikes and failure to investigate alleged violations puts weapons suppliers, including the UK, the US, and France, at risk of complicity in future unlawful attacks.
Instead of asking Germany to resume its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UK government should take seriously the committee’s findings and follow Germany’s example in ending arms sales.