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 and long-standing allies and partners of the United Kingdom. Defence exports to the region have a value beyond the purely economic; they ensure interoperability of equipment with our allies and underpin long-term alliances which help deliver our wider foreign policy objectives.
A strong and durable relationship with Saudi Arabia has enhanced the United Kingdom’s work in advancing many of our shared and vital strategic interests. These include military action against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, combating manifestations of violent extremism and radicalisation, countering terrorist financing, confronting Iranian subversions of the existing state systems across the region, and providing immediate relief and long-term solutions for Syrian refugees. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is a crucial and indispensable partner of the United Kingdom in our shared objective of reaching a political resolution to the conflict in Yemen, which was precipitated by the armed Houthi aggression. Our common security and economic interests run deep. Saudi Arabia’s willingness to bear a greater share of the regional security burden, notably leading the coalition acting under the authority of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216 to restore legal authority in Yemen, is a particularly welcome development.
There have been allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, including the targeting of civilian areas and medical facilities, and the use of cluster munitions, which could, although do not necessarily, constitute violations of international humanitarian law. 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 allegations from credible sources to the contrary. Whilst we welcome the coalition’s progress in establishing 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 is possible that alleged 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. The legality of the Government’s actions will now be determined by the High Court, which granted The Campaign Against Arms Trade, represented by Leigh Day lawyers, a judicial review into arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The outcome of this case will have potential ramifications for British arms exports to all members of the Saudi-led coalition, including Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar, amongst others.
We are grateful for the former Foreign and Business Secretaries’ respective offers for members of the Committees on Arms Export Controls 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