Dear Prime Minister
In the light of continuing reports from the United Nations and other organisations of breaches of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen, we are writing to call on you to launch immediately a full review of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and to suspend arms sales to that country until the review has been concluded.
A number of high level UN officials have spoken out about reported breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including the United Nations’ Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the UN Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told the UN Security Council: “I have observed with extreme concern the continuation of heavy shelling from the ground and the air in areas with high a concentration of civilians as well as the perpetuation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – in particular hospitals and schools – by all parties to the conflict, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by Coalition Forces”.
It is now reported that the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen Final Report states: ‘The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes’.
There have been, and continue to be, extensive UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It was confirmed by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on 12th January 2016 that “our people on the ground” are working with the Saudi military and that these personnel are providing a “quick check” on reported breaches of international humanitarian law. On 15th January 2016, the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir said “We have British officials and American officials and officials from other countries in our command and control centre. They know what the target list is and they have a sense of what it is that we are doing and what we are not doing”.
Could you set out the exact nature of the involvement of UK personnel working with the Saudi military? Can you confirm whether the British Government has received any reports from these UK personnel of actions that might constitute a potential breach of international humanitarian law?
Speaking on BBC Newsnight on 10 November 2015, the Foreign Secretary said: “The Saudis deny that there have been any breaches of international humanitarian law. Obviously that denial alone is not enough; we need to see proper investigations.” Do you believe that proper investigations have been completed by the Saudis and what assessment have you made of their credibility, and will you now support an independent inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council into alleged breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen?
It was confirmed in a recent written parliamentary answer that the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria remain as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement of 25th March 2014. This states that ‘the Government will… 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’.
We look forward to the Committee on Arms Export Controls soon being re-established so that it can look into these matters, but it is the Government’s responsibility to apply its own criteria on arms sales and any perceived failure to do so will seriously undermine Britain in the eyes of the world. We trust therefore that you will now act to undertake the review we are calling for.
Given the widespread interest in this we are making this letter public.