A shameful relationship: UK complicity in Saudi state violence

Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest arms customer. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most repressive regimes and is using UK arms in its bombing of Yemen. The importance to the UK government of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and of the overall alliance with Saudi Arabia, mutes any criticism of the regime’s behaviour.

One year into the intervention in the civil conflict in Yemen by a Saudi-led military coalition, 6,400 people have been killed, half of them civilians, including 900 children, and more than 30,000 people have been injured. The large majority of these casualties have been caused by Coalition air strikes in a campaign where combat aircraft supplied by the United Kingdom have played a significant role. Leading human rights organisations have documented a pattern of violations against international law committed by the Coalition. The UK government has not only ignored or denied this evidence, but has continued unrelentingly to supply arms, including weaponry to be used in Yemen.

This is the most egregious, but only the latest, example of the damaging effects of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In 2011, UK-trained Saudi troops travelling in UK-supplied armoured vehicles moved into Bahrain to assist the violent crushing of pro-democracy protests. In Saudi Arabia itself, political parties are banned, the death penalty is used extensively, women and religious minorities suffer harsh discrimination and peaceful dissent is treated as ‘terrorism’. Despite this, and despite its own export controls, the UK sells arms to the regime which are capable of being used in internal repression. Arms sales are also a political expression of approval of the recipient regime and their value, together with the overall importance to the UK government of the alliance with Saudi Arabia, mutes any criticism of the regime’s behaviour.

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