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UK Government offers predictable and inadequate response to MPs’ concerns on the use of UK arms in Yemen

16 November 2016

The UK Government’s response this week to the recent First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees of Session 2016–17 on The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen is woefully inadequate, says Saferworld.

Earlier this year, two parliamentary committees made a strong call on the UK Government to suspend extant licences and issue no further licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, capable of being used in Yemen, pending the results of an independent, UN-led inquiry into reports of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). The government has responded by dismissing these concerns on very thin grounds. 

All sides to the conflict in Yemen have shown flagrant disregard for IHL and international human rights law. The focus of the committees’ report was the Saudi-led coalition, which began operations in March 2015, on the grounds that the UK has been supplying coalition members but not their Houthi opponents with arms. 

The committees raise very specific concerns on the basis of information supplied by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, regarding 185 potential violations of IHL.  However, in response, the government has fallen back on its standard generic responses to any question about its arms export licensing practice. Repeatedly stating that “the UK Government takes its arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world” does not adequately address the real concerns that have been raised about these licences for arms transfers at risk of being used in the Yemen conflict.

The government's response does not address why it maintains that, more than a-year-and-a-half into the Yemen conflict, it is willing to base its arms policy on a fundamentally non-transparent investigation by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners into just nine of the incidents (less than five per cent of alleged violations) where the investigators are themselves accused of IHL violations, the findings of which are not credible in light of the wealth of information to the contrary.

Overall, the government’s response does not appear to treat the concerns of MPs with full seriousness.  In addition to dismissing the committees’ central recommendation that it should in effect halt the transfer to Saudi Arabia of arms capable of being used in Yemen, it has chosen to ignore a number of specific questions and recommendations of the committees, including failing to outline what steps have been taken to ensure that UK-supplied aircraft are not implicated in the use of cluster munitions. We urge the government to act swiftly.

Find out more about Saferworld's work in Yemen.

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The UK Government's response does not address why it maintains that, more than a-year-and-a-half into the Yemen conflict, it is willing to base its arms policy on a fundamentally non-transparent investigation by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners into just nine of the incidents (less than five per cent of alleged violations) where the investigators are themselves accused of international humanitarian law violations.

Saferworld