The UK Must Urgently Cease Supplying Arms to Saudi Arabia

Since 2004, The Houthi movement has been leading an insurgency against the military in Yemen. In 2014, tensions between Houthis and government forces escalated into outright civil war. Protests around the 2011 Arab Spring had pressured Yemen’s President Saleh to hand power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The transition was not smooth.

As security forces withdrew from outlying provinces, the Houthi rebels took advantage and captured territory in the north. In early 2015, President Hadi fled Yemen. After Hadi appealed to the international community, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab states to try and restore full power to the Yemen Government. Relentless airstrikes and ground offensives killed thousands of civilians.

UK weapons are alarmingly playing a central role in the war in Yemen. The UK government has confessed that the Saudi-led coalition has coordinated attacks using weapons made by British companies, which have amounted to billions of pounds in arms sales. In addition, the combatants using UK-made weapons have been accused of serious human rights violations. These weapons are certain to have played a part in the countless attacks on civilians committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Earlier in 2022, a top-ranking British diplomat who did not disclose their identify to National World stated that there is “no military solution” to the war. More worryingly, Barbara Woodward, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York failed to mention the country’s significant role in the conflict when making a statement to the UN Security Council in February 2022. She went on to condemn the Houthis’ repeated attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure but across the Atlantic, the UK arms industry continued to profit from conflict. In July 2021, UK government resumed issuing licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, reversing a 2019 decision. At the time, the government said, “there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. This move provoked strong reactions from non-governmental organisations operating in Yemen including Oxfam who labelled the move as “immoral and unlawful”.

There are grave concerns that rather than acting as a mediator and peacemaker in the conflict, the UK has taken on the role as a war enabler, which could devastate Yemen further, likely worsening the humanitarian crisis. A reminder that according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), two out of three Yemenis currently require humanitarian aid and protection and over four million are internally displaced.

Since the outbreak of the war, it has been estimated that licenses for arms sales have totaled £6.7 billion with the number continuing to rise. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Raytheon, one of the companies with authorised arms export licenses, secured the sale of 2,400 bombs to Saudi Arabia in 2014 and a Ministry of Defense official revealed at the time that the UK had trained Saudi air force personnel to operate those specific kinds of bombs. Furthermore, in Mwatana’s 2019 report “Day of Judgement: the role of the US and Europe in civilian death, destruction, and trauma in Yemen”, there were details of five attacks on civilian targets where weapons fragments were found that could be linked to UK-made weapons.

UNA LASER is urgently calling on the UK government to cease supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and instead, use its power to promote global peace and stability, to call for an end to this brutal war, which has seen thousands of innocent civilians lose their lives.

We are calling on our members and supporters to write to their local MP to put pressure on the UK government to follow the likes of the USA and Italy suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The USA and Italy both suspended sales in 2021. The UK government must also prioritise the following:

  • Implement the Arms Trade Treaty to a consistently high standard, refraining from conduct which undermines the Treaty, including by ceasing arms exports to countries where there is concern that they will be used to commit war crimes and human rights violations. The Arms Trade Treaty entered into force in 2014 but the UK continued to export arms to Saudi Arabia despite this. In addition, it has been estimated by Freedom House that between 2011-2020, the UK licensed £16.8bn of arms to countries including 39 which have a poor political and human rights record.
  • Articulate a clear and coherent policy on its use of armed drones for counterterrorism purposes, both within and outside the context of armed conflict – with mechanisms for parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.
  • Publish a detailed policy on its approach to autonomy in weapons systems and take on a more active role in international fora to build consensus for an international framework to control the development and deployment of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems.
  • Reverse the damaging aid cuts to Yemen and accelerate humanitarian assistance to its people, especially women and children who are bearing the brunt of the crisis. The UK’s pledges have fallen from £160 million in 2020/2021 to £88 million for 2022/2023 and in that time, the crisis has worsened with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and drought devastating food and healthcare systems.

Against the backdrop of one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, UK politicians must cease to put profit over the lives of Yemenis. A reminder that arms sales to brutal regimes such as the one in Saudi Arabia do nothing to keep people in the UK safe. They do the opposite and will further contribute to the deteriorating security of the people in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia and the world.


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