The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Saudi-led coalition’s intervention

1.There is a legal basis for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and a legitimate need to quell the armed uprising of the Houthi rebels. 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 al-Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) further space to operate in Yemen. We agree with Sir Simon Mayall that we should be grateful for the Saudi-led intervention. 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 16)

The conduct of the conflict

2.We have heard evidence of potential breaches of international humanitarian law 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 breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition. We recommend that the Government press all parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law to minimise harm to civilians and protect civilian infrastructure and continue to monitor the situation. (Paragraph 27)

3.Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented evidence of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions 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 Yemen could contravene international humanitarian law 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 32)

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 Ministry of Defence carry out its own investigation into the evidence of a UK-supplied cluster bomb 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 33)

Investigations into reports of violations of International Humanitarian Law

5.The reports of violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen since September 2014 have been widespread, with all parties to the conflict being accused of failing to meet their respective obligations under international humanitarian law. We welcome the progress that has been made to date by the Saudi-led coalition to establish the mechanisms to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law. We agree with the Government that it is appropriate for the Saudi-led coalition to investigate these allegations in the first instance. However, further progress is needed to ensure that the Joint Incidents Assessment Team is transparent, credible, and publishes its investigations in a timely manner. We recommend that the UK Government offer its support to the Joint Incidents Assessment Team 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 45)

UK interests in the Gulf

6.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, there is a perception that 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 51)

7.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. (Paragraph 55)

8.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 64)

9.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 65)

UK support for Saudi Arabia and the coalition in Yemen

10.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 to be assured that our arms exports are compliant with UK licensing criteria, particularly criterion 2c, while at the same time being sufficiently detached so as not to be implicated in coalition targeting decisions or in the conduct of the air campaign. (Paragraph 78)

11.We are concerned about the involvement of UK personnel with the Saudi-led coalition and the contradictions we have heard regarding their roles. 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 international humanitarian law 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 79)

12.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

13.We are concerned by the increasing perception that the Government’s position is inconsistent with its support for the rule of law and the international rules-based system. The onus is now on the Government to prove that it has complied with its obligations. (Paragraph 87)

A robust licensing regime

14.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 international humanitarian law. In the face of widespread allegations of violations of international humanitarian law 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 93)

15.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 94)

16.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 breaches of international humanitarian law, the Government is preventing public scrutiny of its practices. It is problematic that, at the very time the Government was in receipt of reports documenting violations of international humantarian law 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 102)

17.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:

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15 September 2016