UK arms sales and support for the Saudi regime must end, says CAAT

By agency reporter
April 10, 2020

Saudi forces have reportedly announced a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen. It is unclear if Houthi forces will observe the ceasefire. This comes at a time when coronoavirus is spreading in Saudi Arabia, with the Health Minister warning that cases could reach 200,000 in the weeks ahead. Campaigners have called on the UK and other arms dealing governments to do their part by ending the arms sales that have enabled the war.

Over recent weeks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has  increased distribution of protective gear and test equipment to Yemen in anticipation of an “explosion” of coronavirus cases. Last month, Oxfam warned of the possibility of another outbreak of cholera. Since the war began five years ago there have already been 2.3 million suspected cases.

Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni-based human rights monitoring group, warns that the country’s healthcare system has “almost collapsed” following five years of war, and a Saudi-led bombardment which has destroyed hospitals, aid facilities and other vital healthcare infrastructure. The destruction has left the system operating at 50 per cent of capacity at a time when 24 million people need aid.

Last week the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, called for a global ceasefire in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. The UK and other UN Security Council members could help to realise this goal by stopping their support for human rights abusing regimes and ending arms sales into conflicts.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

In reality, the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. So far, the Government has not published a timeline for this process.

In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government has admitted multiple breaches of the ban on new licences.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "It should not have taken a global pandemic to force Saudi forces into calling for a ceasefire, but this announcement should definitely be welcomed. If it is to succeed then it will take a far greater level of political will than we have seen to date from the regime. 

"The last five years have seen so many false dawns and broken promises, while the people of Yemen have endured the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. If peace is to be built, then the UK and other arms dealing governments must do their part too by finally ending their arms sales and support for this brutal bombardment.”

* Read the UN appeal for a global ceasefire here

* Campaign Against Arms Trade


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