LORDS

Rethink arms licences to Saudi-coalition, Lords Committee says

16 February 2019

The International Relations Committee believes that the Government is narrowly on the wrong side of international humanitarian law on arm sales to Saudi Arabia 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.

Background

Following an evidence session with Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Minister of State at the Department for International Development, the House of Lords International Relations Committee has today published a report calling on the Government to address the root causes of the "unconscionable" humanitarian crisis in Yemen: the conflict itself.

The report expresses deep concern that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of their weaponry is causing—whether deliberately or accidentally—loss of civilian life. It finds that 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.  It calls on the Government to immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies, and to be prepared to suspend the licensing of some arms to the Saudi-led coalition.

Chairman's comments

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford said:

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is unconscionable. That the UK is the second-largest exporter of arms to Saudi-Arabia, and the fifth-largest donor of humanitarian aid in Yemen is a contradiction which the Government must address as a matter of urgency.

"It is always the case that export licensing decisions for the sale of arms require fine judgements, balancing legitimate security concerns against human rights implications. We do not agree with the Government’s assertion that it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law in the case of licensing arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition. 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 violation of international humanitarian law. The Government must address the root causes of the suffering—the conflict itself—and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to Saudi-Arabia and members of the coalition"

Conclusions and recommendations

Drawing attention to the "tension" between the Government's  support for the Saudi-led coalition and its role as a major donor of humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict, the House of Lords International Relations Committee is calling on the Government to:

  • Give much higher priority to resolving – not just mitigating – the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
  • Condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition. 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.
  • Signal that failure by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Iran to bac the Stockholm Agreement – resulting from the peace talks between the parties to the conflict in December 2018 – in deeds as well as words would have negative consequences for the UK's relations with them.
  • Do all it can to support the work of Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Yemen. It should put its weight behind the UN peace process and should consider appointing a special representative, based in London to speak to all parties concerned.
  • Be more willing to use its role as penholder at the UN Security Council to intervene if peace talks are not progressing and if blockages arise.
  • Redouble its diplomatic efforts with all external actors – particularly the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran – to keep them committed to the Hodeidah ceasefire, and its extension to Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen.

Further information

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