Responding to a report from the International Development Committee (IDC), the British government flatly denied that Saudi Arabia has violated international humanitarian law (IHL) in its vicious war in Yemen, in an official response published on Thursday.
The government registered strong disagreement with the IDC’s claim that there was “growing evidence of indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, in violation of IHL,” which raised “serious questions over the Government’s continued licensing of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia [that] must be answered.”
The committee referenced “the UK’s obligations under the laws which regulate the international arms trade.”
The report warns that breaches of those laws mean “the UK should not be providing arms to one of the parties to the conflict.”
The Government denied that the Saudi-led bombing was “indiscriminate” and claimed to have “considerable insight into the systems, processes and procedures that the Saudis have in place,” as UK personnel are embedded with Saudi forces.
It also claimed that then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond had “raised the importance of compliance with IHL with the Saudi Government during his visit to the region late May, emphasising the importance for thorough and conclusive investigations of alleged IHL breaches to be conducted.”
The government asserted that it has a “key test” in place in relation to “our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia,” which determines “whether there is a clear risk that the items to be licensed might be used in a serious violation of IHL.”
“Having regard to all the information available to us, we assess that this test has not been met. The Government is therefore satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria,” it argued.
NGOs dealing with Britain’s global arms trade have not taken the government’s response well.
Within hours, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) spokesman Andrew Smith issued a statement.
“Despite overwhelming evidence that Saudi forces have broken international humanitarian law, the government has continued to arm and support the regime,” he said.
“We are always being told how ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ UK arms export controls supposedly are, but the decision to keep arming Saudi shows how hollow those words are. There is a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the UK government has been complicit in it,” Smith added.
In early July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 59-page report titled “Bombing Businesses: Saudi Coalition Airstrikes on Yemen’s Civilian Economic Structures.”
The document made a detailed study of 17 airstrikes on 13 civilian economic sites, including factories, warehouses, a farm, and two power facilities.
Those facilities had employed some 2,500 people before the airstrikes, after which many ceased operations. Up to 130 people were killed and 171 injured in the attacks.