Oxfam: British government 'in denial' over Saudi arms sales

Oxfam: British government 'in denial' over Saudi arms sales
Oxfam on Tuesday accused the British government of being in denial over how its arms supplies to the Saudi Arabia were being used in Yemen.
3 min read
23 August, 2016
A school struck by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's city of Ibb [Anadolu]
The United Kingdom is "flagrantly" ignoring its own principles and international treaties in its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Oxfam said on Tuesday.

The international development and advocacy charity blasted Britain for its continued sales of arms to the oil-rich kingdom as it continues its 18-month campaign of airstrikes in Yemen.

"UK arms and military support are fuelling a brutal war in Yemen, harming the very people the Arms Trade Treaty is designed to protect," the organisation's deputy chief executive in Great Britain, Penny Lawrence, said.

According to official statistics published by the Camaign Against Arms Trade, Britain licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first 12 months of the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen.

According to the UN, this campaign killed over 500 children in 2015 alone.

The UN's commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, has said that the "carnage" caused by some of the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes appear to constitute war crimes.

In response to the continued trade between London and Riyadh, Oxfam has launched a campaign to pressure the British government to end arms sales to kingdom.

"Schools, hospitals and homes have been bombed in contravention of the rules of war. The UK Government is in denial and disarray over its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen," Lawrence said.

The British government rebuffed Oxfam's claims, with a spokesman saying that Saudi Arabia was not breaching licensing conditions.

"It has misled its own parliament about its oversight of arms sales and its international credibility is in jeopardy as it commits to action on paper but does the opposite in reality. How can the Government insist that others abide by a treaty it helped set up if it flagrantly ignores it?"

However, the British government rebuffed Oxfam's claims, with a spokesman saying that Saudi Arabia was not breaching licensing conditions - a claim that implies the UK government believes that Saudi Arabia has not committed war crimes in Yemen.

"The UK Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world," a spokesperson said.

"The Government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK's export licensing criteria". 

"The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is whether there is a clear risk that those weapons might be used in a serious violation of IHL. The situation is kept under careful and continual review."

This new statement of confidence in the Saudi-led coalition sets a different tone from the actions of Britain's Foreign Office earlier this summer.

In June, the Foreign Office quietly corrected several ministerial statements that claimed that Saudi Arabia was not targeting civilians nor committing war crimes.

Also on Tuesday, a former Minister of State for International Development and current Conservative MP claimed on the country's Channel 4 News that Yemen's Houthis could be killing their own people in order to smear Saudi Arabia.

In the interview with news anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Desmond Swayne MP remarked that the images of atrocities being committed against Yemenis "might be an inside job".