The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Saudi-led coalition’s intervention

1.We agree that there is a legal basis for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and the legitimate need to quell the armed uprising of the Houthi rebels. We also agree that the UK has an interest in preventing the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Yemen that would accompany Houthi expansion in the country. There is also a security interest in denying extremist militant groups such as AQAP further space to operate in Yemen. However, the fact that the UN Security Council has conferred legitimacy on the military intervention does not automatically endorse the conduct of the coalition, as we explore below. (Paragraph 14)

The conduct of the conflict

2.We have heard evidence of serious breaches of IHL by both sides of the conflict. The warring parties have potentially not adequately distinguished between civilian and military targets, which has caused enormous suffering; civilians account for half of those killed, and nearly three million people have fled their homes. The UK Government has not responded to allegations of IHL breaches by the Saudi-led coalition in any meaningful way and we are concerned that our support for the coalition, principally through arms sales, is having the effect of conferring legitimacy on its actions. We recommend that the Government press all parties to the conflict to comply with IHL to minimise harm to civilians and protect civilian infrastructure and continue to monitor the situation closely, with an on-going review of evidence provided by a range of sources. (Paragraph 25)

Cluster munitions

3.Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented evidence of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions in populated, civilian areas in Yemen. Cluster munitions are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which the UK is a signatory, although Saudi Arabia is not. That notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia’s reported use of cluster munitions in populated areas in Yemen would contravene IHL and calls into question the coalition’s wider respect for the rules of war. Evidence of a UK-supplied cluster munition dropped by the coalition in Yemen means this is a matter which the UK Government must address. (Paragraph 30)

4.We do not believe that the UK Government can meet its obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions by relying on assurances from the Saudis. We recommend that the MoD carry out its own investigation into the purported use by the coalition forces of a UK-supplied cluster bomb, further to evidence found in Yemen. We also recommend that the Government, as a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, set out the steps it has taken not only to make sure UK-supplied aircraft and UK personnel are not in any way implicated in the use or deployment of these weapons, which is prohibited under the Convention, but also the steps it has taken to stop Saudi Arabia from using cluster munitions. (Paragraph 31)

Investigations into reports of violations of International Humanitarian Law

5.The reports of potential violations of IHL in Yemen since September 2014 have been widespread, with both parties to the conflict being accused of failing to take the necessary and proportionate precautions to protect civilians. We are not convinced that Saudi Arabia is best placed to investigate reports of IHL breaches and their lack of progress in reporting findings only confirms our concerns that they are obstructing the process. Since September 2015, the Saudis have announced the results of nine investigations, despite having received evidence of at least 185 incidents from the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Moreover, a number of the Saudi investigations reported results which contradict evidence documented by the UN. This raises concerns about the credibility of the process. Following the FCO corrections to written answers and statements made by Ministers on the conflict in Yemen, it is unclear what analysis the Government has undertaken to assess the risk that UK arms transfers to Saudi Arabia might be used in breach of IHL. Without credible investigations, neither the Saudi-led coalition nor the Houthis are being held accountable for their actions and it is Yemeni civilians who bear the consequences. (Paragraph 42)

6.We welcome the progress that has been made to date by the Saudi-led coalition establishing the mechanisms to investigate allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law. However, further progress is needed to ensure that JIAT is transparent, credible, and publishes its investigations in a timely manner. We recommend that the UK Government offer its support to the JIAT where appropriate so that it can meet these ends. We also 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. We recommend that the UK Government support calls for the establishment of such an investigation as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 43)

Instability in the Gulf

7.The Gulf is a region where the UK’s security and prosperity agendas overlap. It is in the UK’s strategic interests to support a secure, prosperous and politically stable Gulf and we recognise that military support and arms sales play a key role in that. However, our relationships in the region, particularly in terms of arms sales can counterpose our interests–understood as security, stability, jobs and prosperity–against our values of respect for international law. There are also pragmatic judgements to be made about how to advance our values in a region where revolutionary or imposed changes of government have usually had catastrophic practical consequences and seriously reversed progress towards our values. (Paragraph 48)

8.The UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is characterised by compromise. We agree with Ministers that there are balances to be struck, but we are not on the whole as confident that we have that balance right. The UK Government needs to explain its claims that defence exports to Saudi Arabia give us a close and influential relationship with the Kingdom and allow us to play an important role in the Middle East, and show where this has been the case. We recommend it uses this influence, firstly to put pressure on the Saudis to allow independent international investigation of claims of IHL violations, and secondly to persuade them to conduct coalition operations in Yemen in accordance with international standards. (Paragraph 52)

Defence industry

9.The UK defence industry is hugely successful and an important part of our export portfolio. Globally the UK is one of the top three exporters of defence equipment with the US and France. While domestic budgets have faced reductions, exports have been essential in sustaining the industry in the UK, its manufacturing expertise and maintaining economies of scale to ensure value for money for our own armed forces and the taxpayer. It is an industry which has a value beyond the purely economic: defence exports build international relationships and ensure interoperability of equipment with our allies, and they underpin long-term alliances which help deliver our wider foreign policy objectives. They are vital both for our security and our prosperity. (Paragraph 61)

10.The Gulf is a crucial market for defence exports, in particular Saudi Arabia to which over 30 per cent of all UK arms export licences in 2015 were approved. As we move towards expanding our military presence and relationships in the Gulf, we would expect defence exports to that region to have a key role to play. However, this cannot be without conditions or without regard for the UK’s international obligations. (Paragraph 62)

Defence engagement

11.The UK’s support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen has been extensive while remaining short of engaging in the actual combat. Professor Sands QC argued that the UK is in effect involved in the conflict; as “we characterise the nature, extent or depth of that involvement, it is impossible, on the basis of the evidence that is before us, to claim plausibly that the United Kingdom is not involved”. Our involvement extends from providing the planes and bombs for airstrikes to UK personnel in the Joint Combined Planning Cell and Saudi Air Operations Centre. This level of involvement without being a party to a conflict is unprecedented and is a result of the “privileged” relationship the UK has with Saudi Arabia and its armed forces. There is again a difficult balance to be struck. We are not convinced that the Government has enough oversight of coalition procedures and operations. (Paragraph 75)

12.We were told that UK personnel are not part of the intelligence planning cells, but that they are in the Joint Combined Planning Cell HQ. We also heard that UK personnel are in Saudi Arabia to train, educate and teach best practice, which includes understanding IHL and training air crews and planners how to go about assessing targets for the future, but that our liaison officers “do not provide training, they do not provide advice on IHL compliance, and they have no role in the Saudi targeting chain.” This is an area in which there is much confusion and greater clarity is needed. (Paragraph 76)

13.We recommend that the UK Government provide more detail with regards to the role of UK personnel in Saudi Arabia, in particular answering the following questions:

A global leader in the rule of law

14.The UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, primarily through arms sales in the face of evidence of IHL violations, is inconsistent with the UK’s global leadership role in the rule of law and international rules-based systems. The very rules the UK championed—represented by the Arms Trade Treaty—are at risk of unravelling. As an instigating member of the ATT, the UK should not set the example to other signatories that it is not bound by its obligations. This puts the UK’s own international reputation at risk and we are concerned that the UK’s voice will ring hollow in advocating for compliance with IHL on global platforms. (Paragraph 83)

Assessing risk

15.The UK Government operates a risk-based arms export licensing regime, requiring Government to assess the risk that arms exports might be used in violation of IHL. In the face of widespread allegations of violations of IHL in Yemen, it is difficult for the public to understand how a reliable licence assessment process would not have concluded that there is a clear risk of misuse of at least some arms exports to Saudi Arabia. At present, the Government’s export licensing policy towards Saudi Arabia could be interpreted as not living up to the UK’s robust and transparent regulations, nor upholding the UK’s international obligations. (Paragraph 89)

16.The credibility of the Government’s policy and practice of its arm export licensing regime has been called into question. In response, we recommend it issue a public explanation of its risk assessment process and what level of risk would trigger the refusal of a licence. (Paragraph 90)

A lack of transparency

17.The Government points to its robust licensing regime as evidence that its arms export practices are responsible. However, by failing to provide persuasive evidence to support this statement or to respond to reports of IHL breaches, the Government is preventing scrutiny of its practices. It is problematic that, at the very time the Government was in receipt of reports documenting violations of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition the processing times for those licence applications were speeded up. The Government should provide a detailed explanation for those licensing decisions rather than a simple assertion that we have a rigorous licensing regime. (Paragraph 98)

18.We recommend that the Government implement greater transparency in the policy and practice of its arms exports. As a first step towards this, it should provide further details on the following:

Suspending licences

19.Saudi Arabia is one of our closest allies. However, the weight of evidence of violations of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia while maintaining the credibility of our arms licensing regime. The failure of the Government to support the establishment of an independent international investigation to provide conclusive evidence on IHL violations in Yemen, on which to base arms export licensing decisions, has allowed for the transfer of items to Saudi Arabia very possibly in contravention of the UK’s legal obligations. We believe it is in the interests of all those involved in arms exports that arms transfers are seen as responsible. While such doubt and uncertainty about IHL compliance in Yemen exists, the default position of the UK Government should not be to continue to sell weapons but to pause until it is satisfied that allegations have been properly investigated. (Paragraph 106)

20.In the case of Yemen, it is clear to us that the arms export licensing regime has not worked. We recommend that the UK suspend licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, capable of being used in Yemen, pending the results of an independent, United Nations-led inquiry into reports of violations of IHL, and issue no further licences. In addition, the UK Government should investigate whether any licences so far issued have led to the transfer of weapons which have been used in breach of IHL. This suspension must remain in place until such time as the UN-led inquiry can provide evidence that the risk that such exports might be used in the commission of serious violations of IHL has subsided. (Paragraph 107)

A role for developmement

21.The transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen has highlighted the limited role of DFID in arms licensing decisions which can ultimately have a significant impact on development and the work of the Department. It is clear that the humanitarian crisis which DFID is working to address in Yemen has been exacerbated by the flow of arms to Saudi Arabia which other government departments have licensed. This has created an incoherence between the Government’s development policy and its wider security and foreign policy. (Paragraph 116)

22.We do not support the exclusion of DFID from licence decisions beyond those for ODA-eligible countries, and from considering the end-use of weapons, as a result of which DFID has had no formal role in assessing arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. We recommend that the Government reassess whether DFID should be involved formally in arms export licence assessments in addition to those under Criterion 8, for example those under Criterion 3 (“Internal situation in the country of final destination”) and Criterion 4 (“Preservation of regional peace, security and stability”) giving regard to the use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen. We also recommend that Criterion 8 be expanded to consider whether the proposed transfer would seriously undermine the economy or seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country, and the country or countries where the proposed transfer might ultimately be used. (Paragraph 117)

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15 September 2016