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UK arms exports to Yemen (2012-2022)

Yemen Country Overview

Yemen is a country located in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East.

Yemen is located in the southwest part of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East, neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The recent history of Yemen has been marked by political instability, civil war and the world’s gravest humanitarian crises according to the UN.

As part of the wider Arab Spring movement, protests erupted in Yemen in 2011, i.a. asking for the president to step down. President Ali ABdullah Saleh was forced to resign in 2012 and was replaced by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. However, his presidency was short-lived. As he struggled to maintain control of the country, Houthi rebels managed to seize control of the capital city. Hadi fled to Aden, where he set up a rival government.
Led by Saudi Arabia, a coalition of Arab states intervened in support of Hadi’s government in 2015. The conflict has since escalated into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who support the Hadi government and the Houthis respectively.

The conflict has meant the displacement of millions, as well as severe food and medicine shortages, with the Un reporting millions only being ‘a step away from starvation‘.

In combination with this devastating crisis, Yemen has faced a number of other challenges in recent years, including cholera and Covid 19 outbreaks that are threatening to crash the country’s already fragile healthcare system, locust invasions that destroy crops, and an economy that continuously reaches new depths of collapse.

Yemen signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2013 and ratified it in April 2014.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Yemen did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022? 

The number of weapons licenses granted was 26 limited and 95 unlimited export licenses in the reported ten-year period. With numbers peaking in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

The value of the weaponry exported to Yemen from the UK between 2012 and 2022 was worth £5.2m. If we included dual-use licenses in the calculation, the value would amount to £7.5m.

The numbers were particularly high during the outbreak of the civil war in 2012 and 2013, making up £841k and £1.6m respectively. After the numbers had decreased they started to steadily increase again, starting in 2020, £569k up to £1.0m and £823k in the following years.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Yemen?

the most frequent type of weapons sold to the country from UK companies has been small arms ammunition. Secondly, the list of UK exports to Yemen features sporting guns and assault rifles.

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Yemen between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
small arms ammunition79
Sporting guns65
components for sporting guns63
assault rifles24
Components for assault rifles23
body armour17
components for body armour17
military helmets16
all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection11
weapon sights4
Top 3 military export items from the UK to Yemen between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
ML10 ‒ Aircraft, helicopters, drones£1.9m
ML13 ‒ Armoured plate, body armour, helmets£1.1m
PL5001 ‒ Security and para-military police goods£810k
Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

At the end of 2021 the UN estimated that since the outbreak of war in March 2015, the conflict in Yemen caused over 377,000 deaths, with over 3000 being killed or injured in 2022 alone. However, these numbers do not even reflect the indirect death of the conflict, including starvation, displacement and gender-based violence. The conflict has led to what has been referred to by the UN as the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis, with millions of internally displaced people facing “a daily struggle to survive”. Around 20.7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance and 4 million have been displaced.

The UK’s military export to Yemen and other countries involved in the conflict has fatal consequences, with CAAT revealing that over half of Saudi Arabia’s combat aircraft used for bombing raids are UK-supplied. Further, the arms sale strengthens the Hadi/Saudi military alliance’s military capabilities.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

In September 2016, parliament released a briefing, urging that all UK arms sales to Yemen must stop until all claims that UK-supplied weapons have been used in military actions in Yemen that contravene International Humanitarian Law have been fully investigated by an independent, international inquiry. 

At practically every UN Human Rights Council dialogue with the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, the UK government continued to express its deep concern for the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen and stressed the urgency to fully investigate these.

Yet, after a court-mandated assessment found only “isolated occurrences” of humanitarian law violations, British ministers Dominic Raab and Liz Truss allowed an increase in arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the third quarter of 2020.

A year later, in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2021, the UK, again stated their deep concern about the ‘serious and wide-ranging human rights violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict.’ The UK urged all the parties involved to ‘investigate these allegations and take action to promote and protect human rights.’ Yet exports continued to rise.

In October 2022, the UK Government has argued there is “not a clear risk” that UK military exports to Saudi Arabia are used to violate IHL, thereby justifying to increase exports to this party.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Yemeni government has committed since 2012?

The Yemeni government has been accused of committing numerous human rights abuses between 2012 and 2022. Some of the most common abuses include:

  • The 2013 United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2013 for Yemen raised concerns about varying human rights abuses in the country. The report stated, “ The UN Group of Experts concluded that the ROYG, Houthis, Saudi-led coalition and STC were “responsible for human rights violations including arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the recruitment and use in hostilities of children, the denial of fair trial rights, violations of fundamental freedoms, and economic, social and cultural rights.” The United Nations, NGOs, media outlets, as well as humanitarian and international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict, causing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure from shelling and airstrikes. UNICEF reported that 2,000 children have been killed in the first two years of the conflict. 
  • Arbitrary detention: The Yemeni government has been accused of detaining individuals without charge or trial, and subjecting them to torture and other forms of mistreatment. According to human rights organizations, hundreds of people have been detained in this manner. In 2016 Human Rights Watch reported on 61 arbitrary and abusive detentions under Sanna-based authorities. In 2019, 210 cases of arbitrary detention including 18 children have been documented. Parties to the conflict arbitrarily detained civilians in 21 Yemeni governorates. 
  • Use of excessive force: After protests broke out in 2011, security forces often shot unarmed protesters with live ammunition during otherwise peaceful protests. Yahya Saleh, President Saleh’s nephew, leads Central Security, a paramilitary outfit. The security forces occasionally attacked protestors with armed civilian assailants or watched armed gangs strike. Most civilians and bystanders died in Sanaa, Taizz, and Aden. 35 children died. Sanaa snipers killed at least 45 protesters on March 18. Taizz security forces killed at least 22 people and destroyed a protest camp between May 29 and June 3.
  • Use of cluster bombs or other unlawful attacks: All Parties to the Yemeni conflict continued to violate international humanitarian and human rights law without consequence. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Huthi troops committed unlawful attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property, notably food infrastructure. A finding from Amnesty International has stated,“ On 21 March, in Hodeidah governorate, two air strikes hit Salif grain port, damaging facilities and injuring five employees. Huthi forces continued to use imprecise heavy weaponry throughout March, into the Meel, Tawasol and Kheir camps for internally displaced people, close to Ma’arib city, 1-3km from the front line. This killed six women and three children.” An investigation carried out by Human Rights Watch in 2017 examined 18 unlawful attacks on 14 civilian economic installations, some of which used weapons supplied by the U.S. or the U.K. The strikes resulted in 130 civilian deaths and 173 injuries. After the bombings, numerous factories shut down, resulting in the termination of hundreds of workers.
  • Child labour and abuses against children: Yemen has one of the highest rates of child labour in the world, UNICEF recorded more than 8,526 violations against children between 2019 and 2020, including denial of humanitarian access, the killing and maiming of children and the recruitment of children in the conflict. 

This is a non-exhaustive list of the abuses that are happening every day. Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Yemen and other parties involved in the conflict. Human rights abuses continue.

For more from this investigation please go here