Correspondence

Below is one reply from our MP. It seems to follow a standard response from the Government, so we thought it worth publishing here, with the text from the letter in the larger font;

“Thank you for contacting me about the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. I am reassured that the Government takes seriously it’s legal obligations as regards licensing of arms for export to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The UK has one of the most rigorous licensing regimes in the world.”

Throughout the conflict in Yemen the Government has used this standardised response, saying that it has “one of the most robust licensing regimes in the world.” The “Rigorous repetition” webpage lists just a few of the times this response has been used [102].

Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, clearly states that a country must not “grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law” [103].

Criterion 3 states “The Government will not grant a licence for items which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.”

Clearly, there is a large amout of evidence from reliable sources listing incidents where war crimes are likely to have been committed by the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. They are blatant and horrific involving innocent civilians and children, homes, hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure. The UN report in Sept 2017 [97] states such attacks on civilians have been widespread and also included airstrikes against funeral gatherings and civilian boats. As such, arms exports under any straightforward interpretation of the law should be suspended to Saudi Arabia under Criterion 2c at least, if not other criteria too.If the law does not apply here, it’s hard to think of where it would apply

The system to control arms exports and all these criteria are useless and weak if the words aren’t applied as they were intended. We cannot ensure UK weapons are not used to commit crimes which cause horrendous human suffering if the laws are not enforced from the point of view of human and environmental rights first, as opposed to the priority being for the arms trade to find ways it can legitimise it’s practice

“Each application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking into account the precise nature of the equipment and the identity and track record of the recipient.”

The track record of Saudi Arabia with regards to human rights has been well documented (see Amnesty International). Guidance kit components made at Raytheon are crucial to the Paveway bombs. When the conflict escalated, the order for these bombs was sped up at the request of Saudi Arabia. Photographs of remnants of the paveway series guidance kit have been found at bomb sites where civilians have been killed, and no miltary target identified [100]

“The Government has consistently said it does not, and will not, issue licenses where it judges the proposed export would provoke or prolong internal conflicts, or where there is a clear risk it might be used to facilitate internal repression or be used aggressively against another country. I have always fully supported this stance.”

That is obviously what we want to hear, but the problem with regards to issuing licenses for exporting  arms to Saudi Arabia, is that, what the Government says about not issuing arms to countries where the export would be used aggressively against another country etc, does not match the overwhelming evidence from various sources that licensing goes ahead, regardless of there being so many allegations and likely violations of the rules of war by the Saudi led coalition airstrikes. Unless the UK takes action now, more civilians will be injured and die and the UK will be complicit in any further crimes committed

“Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it is investigating reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law. This is an important process and the UK is fully behind thorough investigations into all allegations of violations of International Law. Finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen is the best way to bring about long-term stability and peace talks are a top priority.”

Clearly it is not enough to leave it to Saudi Arabia to investigate their own possible violations of the rules of law. To leave it to Saudi Arabia to carry out their own investigations, and to believe they are doing this impartially and fairly is to back the Saudi’s position above others. To do so is to dismiss the evidence of possible violations that have been documented on the ground by the UN Human Rights Office, and amongst others, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, Amnesty International, and to ignore their calls, and calls from the wider British public  for an urgent Independent International Investigation.

The UN report of Sept 2017 [97] states that the Yemen National Commission established to investigate human rights violations in Yemen is not perceived to be impartial. The report states that in the absence of its recognition by all parties to the conflict, the Commission cannot deliver comprehensive, impartial reporting on the human rights situation in Yemen. The Commission reports to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who is backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said it was therefore crucial for an independent, international investigation to be established on the conflict in Yemen. He says he has repeatedly called upon the international community to take action. The UN’s September report also calls for the United Nations to take over responsibility for investigating human right violations in Yemen as the country’s government is not up to the job [105].

The UN report found that, “In many cases, information obtained…suggested that civilians may have been directly targeted, or that operations were conducted heedless of their impact on civilians without regard to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. In some cases, information suggested that no actions were taken to mitigate the impact of operations on civilians.”

With all five attacks that Human Rights Watch researched and reported about on the 12th Sept, the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Investigation Assessment Team (JIAT) had not announced investigations into any them, despite evidence that these attacks are likely to amount to war crimes [100]. 26 children died in these airstrikes which all occurred since June 2017.

Robert Mardini, the Middle East chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement, “We cannot turn a blind eye on the rising number of civilians injured or killed as a result of indiscriminate attacks in Yemen’s conflict,” [104]

“The Government continues to monitor the situation closely, using cross-Departmental resources to seek further information. Additionally, the Government continues to welcome any further information NGO’s can provide.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

 

References:

97. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22025&LangID=E

100. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/12/yemen-coalition-airstrikes-deadly-children

102. https://rigorousrepetition.tumblr.com/

103. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140325/wmstext/140325m0001.htm

104. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/red-cross-condemns-childrens-death-recent-yemen-shelling-49905995

105. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-un/dont-leave-saudi-backed-commission-to-probe-yemen-abuses-u-n-says-idUSKCN1BG175