Halt Saudi arms sales immediately, probe civilian attacks in Yemen – MPs

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. © Reuters
A group of MPs have called on the British government to immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and have demanded an independent inquiry into the war in Yemen, where British arms are thought to have been used against civilians.

In a letter to Development Secretary Justine Greening, the International Development Select Committee urged the UK to cease opposing an inquiry which aims to examine potential breaches of humanitarian law by the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. 

It comes after human rights charities and anti-war groups criticized Saudi Arabia for allegedly bombing civilian targets.

The British government has sold £1 billion (US$1.45 billion) worth of arms to the Saudi government in the past year.

Last week a leaked UN report found Saudi Arabia guilty of breaking humanitarian law. In response the Saudi government set up an internal inquiry.

British MPs say the UK should back an independent inquiry. Members of the committee were shocked to hear the UK had hindered efforts to launch such an investigation in September 2015 when it was proposed by the UN.

“We need an independent, international fact-finding mission to uncover the truth. Until then we should cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia,” wrote committee chair Stephen Twigg.

All parties to this conflict should review their obligations under international law and undertake to put civilians and humanitarian work above other interests.

MPs said they had been presented with evidence from the head of UNICEF Yemen, who said the Saudi-led coalition had been involved in bombing campaigns which endangered the lives of civilians.

The committee’s letter was welcomed by activist group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which condemned the British government’s actions.

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“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and the UK government has been complicit in it. We agree that arms sales need to stop, but they should never have been allowed in the first place.

"Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record and has been supported by governments of all political colors for far too long,” said CAAT’s Andrew Smith. 

The leaked UN report, obtained by the Guardian last week, found that Saudi airstrikes are breaching international law by hitting civilian targets, including refugee camps, civilian weddings, vehicles, medical facilities and schools.

The UN panel of experts on Yemen used satellite imagery to look at areas before and after bombings, which also targeted an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the EU.

There were also protests outside the London arms traders dinner on Tuesday evening, when activists demonstrated against the glamorous dinner attended by major arms companies and high profile MPs.