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Air strikesAn Anatomy of an Air StrikeImpact on civiliansUK arms export to FCO countries of concernVictim assistanceYemen

AOAV condemns government decision to allow new arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Today (7th July, 2020), the UK Government announced it was to resume the granting of arm sale licences to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition that is bombing Yemen.

Their decision, announced in a statement by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has been widely condemned by NGOs and experts who focus on the conflict in Yemen.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled the Conservative Government had acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without assessing whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law.

At the time, the Government undertook not to approve any new licences pending a reconsideration process. It was ordered by the Court of Appeal to revisit decisions on extant licences, and to do so in a lawful manner; such a ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. The Government was to later admit multiple breaches of the ban of new licences.

Today’s announcement means that further licences can be granted.

AOAV has been charting the harm from explosive violence for years. We covered the humanitarian impact in 2015. That year, across the world, it was Yemen that was the country that suffered most from the use of heavy aircraft bombs in populated areas. And we did case studies of such civilian deaths in 2016.

Over the last 5 years, AOAV have recorded 18,120 casualties from explosive weapons in Yemen, including 13,833 civilians. This means 76% of all casualties from explosive weapons there have been civilians.

Of all weapons, airstrikes have caused 9,859 civilian casualties – 71% of total casualties from explosive weapons in Yemen. Almost all of these civilian casualties (9,613) were from airstrikes perpetrated by the Saudi-led coalition.

Indeed, of all casualties recorded from airstrikes in Yemen in the last five years (11,853), 83% were civilians. 64% of Saudi coalition airstrikes in Yemen, as recorded in English language news media, were perpetrated in populated areas. When the Saudi coalition airstrikes hit populated areas, civilians accounted for 96% of the casualties.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime. This includes:

  • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

In reality the figures are far higher. Most bombs and missiles are issued via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

On the 6th July, the Government announced new sanctions against human rights abusers. The Foreign Secretary said this sent a “clear message”. Such a message seems to be significantly muddied by the UK government having no problem with British weapons killing and maiming civilians in Yemen.