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International Development Committee inquiry into Yemen crisis calls on UK Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The UK Parliament’s International Development Committee has written to the Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, to set out their “serious concerns” about the UK Government’s approach to the current crisis in Yemen.

This follows the Committee’s evidence session on 27 January, when MPs heard evidence from international humanitarian organisations and Government ministers.

Yemen was the worst country for civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapon use in the first seven months of 2015, according to AOAV’s data. Much of this chaos is due to the use of explosive weapons with wide area impacts in populated areas across the country.

Between 1 January and 31 July 2015 AOAV recorded:

  • 124 incidents of explosive violence in Yemen resulting in 5,239 deaths and injuries;
  • 86% of those killed and injured were civilians (4,493);
  • More civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons were recorded in Yemen during the first seven months of 2015 than in any other country in the world;
  • When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, civilians made up 95% of reported deaths and injuries;
  • 13 separate incidents in Yemen each killed and injured more than 100 civilians. Eight of these incidents were air strikes;
  • Air strikes have killed and injured the most civilians, with 2,682 civilian deaths and injuries (60%).

TheInternational Development Committee recognised the important leadership role which DFID has played in the humanitarian response. However, it said that such leadership “is being severely undermined by the UK Government’s approach to Yemen since the start of the crisis, including £3bn arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This is inconsistent with DFID’s support for the humanitarian response”.

The Committee is urging the Government to:

  • Withdraw UK opposition to calls for an independent international inquiry into alleged abuses of international humanitarian law in Yemen. Ministers should do all they can to ensure the creation of such an inquiry.
  • Suspend all sales of arms to Saudi Arabia until evidence can be provided that the risk of such arms being used in serious violations of international humanitarian law has subsided.
  • Apply pressure to all parties to the conflict and other international actors to comply with their obligations under international law and to take all possible measures to protect civilians. Humanitarian agencies must be given a safe space in which to operate. 

The Chair of the Committee, Stephen Twigg MP, said:

“There is a clear paradox in the Government’s actions on Yemen. While DFID recently announced another £10million for the humanitarian crisis in the region, the UK is a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“The Committee heard concerning evidence from international humanitarian organisations on the ground in Yemen. Last week, a leaked report for the United Nations uncovered ‘widespread and systematic’ attacks which represent violations of international humanitarian law.

“We need to be able to separate these issues. We need an independent, international fact-finding mission to uncover the truth. Until then we should cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia. All parties to this conflict should review their obligations under international law and undertake to put civilians and humanitarian work above other interests.”

The Committee will produce a formal report on the inquiry in due course.