The conflict in Yemen has had tragic and disastrous effects on the civilian population and on the economic development of the country. The intervention of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in support of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was supported by the United Nations Security Council and we recognise it as a legitimate operation under the aegis of international law. Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition are key allies and partners of the United Kingdom in the region, relationships which are of long standing, and defence exports to these countries underpin these relationships.
There have been serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, including the targeting of civilian areas and medical facilities, and the use of cluster munitions. HM Government appears to have relied on assurances from the Saudi government that the coalition is operating within the boundaries of international law, despite the fact we heard evidence from credible sources to the contrary. Whilst we welcome the progress made by the coalition to establish the mechanisms to conduct investigations, further progress is needed to ensure that investigations are transparent, credible, and published in a timely manner. We recommend that the UK Government offer its support to the coalition where appropriate so that it can meet these ends. The Saudi government has taken too long to report to the UN Human Rights Council the results of its internal investigations into the alleged violations. We believe that an independent, United Nations-led investigation of alleged violations by all parties to the conflict is necessary to supplement the internal investigations of the Saudi-led coalition.
Given that the UK has a long history of defence exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and considering the evidence we have heard, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. HM Government has obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as European and domestic law, to ensure there is no risk that arms it has licensed might be used in contravention of international humanitarian law. We therefore recommend that HM Government suspend sales of arms which could be used in Yemen to Saudi Arabia until the independent, UN-led investigation has come to its conclusions and then review the situation again.
We are grateful for the former Foreign and Business Secretaries’ respective offers for CAEC members to have regular meetings with ministers and to visit the Arms Export Policy Department in the FCO and the Export Control Organisation in BIS. However, the Government’s arms export licensing regime is relatively opaque to the public, to whom it appears that the Government too often relies on assertion rather than positive evidence. We have made a number of recommendations for measures which could be introduced to make the system of licensing considerably more transparent than is currently the case. This would be a significant step forward in terms of our international obligations, not least under the Arms Trade Treaty, in the creation of which the UK was a leading player.
Finally, we call for the Government to respond in a timely fashion to this Report. This is a pressing issue. We will be seeking an early opportunity to debate our conclusions and recommendations on the floor of the House.
15 September 2016