Newly-published Department for Business, Innovation & Skills figures show that in the third quarter of last year the UK granted over £1bn worth of arms export licences for Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence of massive human rights violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition in its aerial bombing campaign in Yemen.
The figures - published in the Strategic Export Controls (1 July-30 September 2015) report
- show that during this period 49 export licences were granted (with none refused), with a total value of £1,080,855,244. Overwhelmingly - to a value of £1,066,216,510 - this was made up of five export licences for large consignments of bombs and other munitions.
Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth said:
“These figures are deeply worrying, showing that the UK continued to despatch huge amounts of weaponry to Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming evidence that the Saudi war machine was laying waste to Yemeni homes, schools and hospitals.
“As officials were signing off these sales, hundreds - possibly thousands - of Yemeni civilians were dying in a terrifying barrage of indiscriminate Saudi airstrikes in the country.
“Just this week we’ve had the prime minister complacently saying the UK has ‘stringent controls’ on arms exports - a completely hollow claim when you looks at these figures.
“The law is crystal clear: any Saudi attack, whether deliberate or not, that fails to adequately protect civilians is a violation of international law. And our obligations are equally clear - as a major supplier of Saudi Arabia’s weaponry, the UK is legally obliged to suspend arms exports.
“At the moment, despite all the evasive remarks from government ministers, the truth is that we are selling weapons to the Saudis in the full knowledge of the grave risk that they’ll be used to kill Yemeni civilians.
“Instead of burying their heads in the sand over Saudi Arabia’s behaviour in Yemen, Downing Street should immediately suspend export licences for all further UK arms bound for Saudi Arabia, and allow a full investigation into allegations of serious breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”
In the previous quarter (1 April-30 June) the UK also authorised over £1.7bn worth of arms exports to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the vast majority of this - £1,714,184,642 - for Typhoon combat aircraft and their spare parts and bombs. Arms experts believe the third quarter’s licensing of bombs represents a replenishing of munitions following earlier large-scale usage of the weaponry in the conflict in Yemen.
Last month a comprehensive legal analysis commissioned by Amnesty and the arms control organisation Saferworld found that the UK Government is breaking national, EU and international law and policy by supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia in the context of its military intervention and bombing campaign in Yemen. The legal opinion was written by Professor Philippe Sands QC, Professor Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh - all from the Matrix Chambers legal firm.