- It is six years since Saudi forces began bombing Yemen.
- UK has licensed at least £6.8 billion worth of arms in that time, although the real total is a great deal higher.
- The UN warns that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen in decades
- The UK is increasingly isolated in its support for the war
Six years ago Saudi-led forces began a brutal bombing campaign in Yemen. The attacks are estimated to have killed at least 8,759 civilians and they have created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world – leading to many more deaths.
The UK government is complicit in this crisis. UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have played a central role in attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, which have destroyed infrastructure across Yemen. The government has continued to supply weapons for use in Yemen despite overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law.
The humanitarian disaster is a direct result of the war. Despite warnings from the UN that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen in decades the UK government recently announced a major reduction in aid for Yemen.
The UK government has refused calls to follow the US lead and end arms exports for use in the war in Yemen. US and UK support is absolutely essential to Saudi Arabia’s ability to wage its war in Yemen. An end to US and UK support, which includes training, maintenance and logistics, could ground the Royal Saudi Airforce in days.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £6.8 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:
- £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
- £3.9 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system. CAAT estimates that the true value of UK arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition amounts to at least £18 billion.
In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi-led forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. This followed a case brought by CAAT.
The government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. However, existing long-lasting licences remained valid, so that for example BAE Systems’ work to service and support the Saudi air force, critical to enabling the bombing campaign, continued uninterrupted.
In July 2020 the government announced that it was resuming arms sales. This followed a review by the Department of International Trade which concluded that any violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by the Saudi coalition were ‘isolated incidents’, despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.
Government statistics show it licensed £1.4 billion worth of weapons sales to Saudi Arabian forces in the immediate aftermath of its decision to renew arms sales. The majority of these licences were for ML4 licences which cover bombs, missiles and countermeasures.
CAAT has filed a new legal challenge against the government’s decision to resume sales.
Sarah Waldron from Campaign Against Arms Trade said:
These attacks have continued for six long years, and this is six years that should shame the UK. UK-made weapons have played a central role in creating the crisis in Yemen, with UK-made fighter jets firing UK-made missiles and dropping UK-made bombs.
The UK government’s continued support for the bombing is reprehensible, but it is increasingly isolated on the global stage. It must now take action to help end this deadly conflict. Every day that this war continues there will be more people killed and more vital services destroyed. The UK must stop its arms sales now, and increase momentum towards peace.