Comment & analysis

Letter to Liam Fox, secretary of state for international trade, UK Government: The UK must halt arms to the Saudi-led coalition

20 June 2018

The Rt Hon. Liam Fox
Secretary of State for International Trade
King Charles Street

cc: The Rt Hon. Theresa May MP
The Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP
The Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson MP
The Rt Hon. Greg Clark MP

20 June 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to express our alarm at the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen and again urge you to immediately stop all arms and ammunition transfers to the Saudi-led coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Control Arms maintains that the threshold for halting transfers to the Saudi- and Emirati- led Coalition was met long ago. The latest offensive on Hodeidah has already led to many casualties with civilians trapped in the fighting and unable to access supplies of food and water under heavy bombing. Thousands have been displaced. Crops have been destroyed in the bombing and fighting; while airstrikes could cut off the port from the rest of Yemen’s population. All these factors increase the risk of a famine. If the situation was judged by the government as being finely balanced before the current military offensive in Hodeidah, then we have now surely passed the tipping point where the only legitimate course of action is to immediately stop arms transfers.

The UK has made its opposition to the offensive clear, however its attempts to dissuade the Coalition from proceeding have been seriously and directly undermined by the UK’s continuing supply of weapons to the Coalition, and its repeated defence of those supplies.

We support the recent letter from a cross-party group of MPs (sponsored by Andrew Mitchell MP, Alison Thewliss MP and Keith Vaz MP) which urges the Prime Minister to “use all available means to end this catastrophic military assault on Hodeidah Port by the Saudi and Emirati led coalition … [including] removing material support from combatants”.

We therefore call on you to immediately suspend existing arms transfers to any combatant party in Yemen; deny any further arms transfer licence applications until there is no longer a
clear risk that arms might be used to commit serious violations or grave breaches of international human rights or humanitarian law; and act immediately to work with European allies and the US to make such a suspension universal, including through the imposition of an
EU arms embargo.

We also call on the UK Government to suspend the in-country support for UK-supplied weapons systems provided by the UK MOD and its contractors. We note that Article 37 of the 1986 Al Yamamah Memorandum of Understanding, and presumably similar clauses in other Saudi-UK bilateral agreements, specifically provides for such a suspension in times of armed conflict.

All parties to the conflict have violated international law. The UK, as the Security Council ‘penholder’ on Yemen, a humanitarian leader, and State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty has a moral and legal obligation to prevent the supply of any weaponry which risks being used in Yemen as part of wider diplomatic efforts to help alleviate the catastrophic suffering of the Yemeni people.

Yours sincerely

Paul Murphy
Executive Director

Kate Allen
Amnesty International UK

Anna Macdonald
Control Arms

Natalie Samarasinghe
Executive Director
United Nations Association – UK