In August of this year Saudi Arabia faced an international outcry when dozens were killed when a Saudi missile hit a school bus in Yemen. However, the UK continues to do multi-million pound deals with Saudi Arabia, selling Typhoon jets for use in Yemen as well as other high end weapons systems.
In the light of a recent UN report on civilian deaths, we repeat our earlier calls for the UK and other major nations to immediately cease all exports of arms to Saudi Arabia and support a ceasefire in Yemen.
The United Nations has warned that, in this war-ravaged country, the number of Yemenis relying on emergency rations could rise from the present 8 million to 14 million people; that is half of the population of Yemen. The war has continued for 3 years and there is little sign of the Houthi separatists being defeated. War crimes have been committed on all sides but the largest single cause of civilian death has been the air strikes against civilian areas carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition’s bombing of residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities is clearly in contravention of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
For many years our churches campaigned for the introduction of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Under this treaty and in accordance with EU Consolidated and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, the UK Government must decline licences if “there is a clear risk that items might be used in the commission of a serious IHL violation”. It seems abundantly clear that the Arms Trade Treaty and EU Consolidated Criteria require the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a United Nations-led investigation into war crimes. Our Church leaders and members have previously called for such a suspension.
Arms Sales – Aspects on which Christians will boardly agree see: – Good For Us?
Germany has implemented a temporary suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In September Spain suspended arms sales, returning to Saudi Arabia a down-payment of $9.2 million for the sales of laser-guided bombs. Norway and the Walloon region of Belgium are among others to have halted or restricted arms exports.
The UK Government however has not only defended its further sales of arms to Saudi Arabia but has also blocked an independent UN inquiry into the civilian deaths in Yemen.
During a Judicial Review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the UK High Court, the government stated that it tracks all allegations of strikes on civilians and shares this data with the Saudi military. But the UK Ministry of Defence admitted in court that for the majority of the strikes on civilians that it had tracked it was “unable to identify a legitimate military target”. Yet perversely, the UK Government took the view that there was no clear risk that further sales of jets to Saudi Arabia would be used in contravention of IHL.
The UK Government’s argument for not suspending arms sales is that Saudi Arabia has instigated the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) to investigate its own actions. Increasingly these investigations, like the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, appear to be little more than a cover-up. The August 2018 strike on a school bus along with several other tragic incidents clearly demonstrates that the UK Government’s confidence in the JIAT was, and continues to be, in error.
Blocking an international investigation was wrong. The Saudi Government’s pretense at an investigation of the Khashoggi murder underscores the weakness of a reliance on a process of self-investigation. The only responsible course of action is to immediately suspend arms sales in advance of an independent international investigation of attrocities committed by all sides in Yemen. While the UK Government continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia our nation shares responsibility for the deaths of school children and others living in civilian areas that are still being targeted by the Saudi-led coalition.
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Revd Daniel Woodhouse and Sam Walton have been found not guilty at Burnley Magistrates Court