The bombs were bought in the 1980s. Since 2010, the international community has banned their sale. For the Saudi authorities, the bombs hit "legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages”. For the UN, Saudi air strikes are responsible for almost half of all civilian casualties.
Sanaa (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In the conflict in Yemen Saudi Arabia has used British-made cluster bombs.
British authorities have confirmed that Saudi Arabia used munitions bought from the UK in the 1980s.
Since 2010 it has been illegal under British law to supply such bombs because they put civilians at risk by releasing small bomblets over a wide area. Britain’s Labour oppositions called the news "deeply worrying".
London, along with Washington, militarily supports the Saudi coalition engaged in an air campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels. The latter are opposed to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who returned to Aden after a time in exile.
Since January 2015, the country has been the scene of a bloody civil war opposing Sunni leaders, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Shia rebels close to Iran.
In a statement to MPs, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK had not supplied any cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia since 1989. But he added that Saudi investigations had concluded that some UK-made cluster bombs had been dropped.
In all 108 nations have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The latter, which bans all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster bombs, became binding international law in 2010.
Saudi authorities said it used the BL-755 cluster bombs "against legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages against continuous attacks" by Houthi rebels.
However, human rights activists and groups point out that these weapons have resulted in the death or injury of civilians.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in August has reported that coalition air strikes were suspected of causing around 50 percent of all civilian deaths.
Last week the United States decided to restrict weapons sale to Saudi Arabia because of the number of civilians killed in Saudi air raids in Yemen.
This comes a few days after it signed several agreements to sell weapons and military equipment (including aircraft, helicopters and missiles) to four Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia.
Such agreements are part of long-established billion dollar arms sales with the latest inked in August.
For their part, human rights activists and organisations note that the military campaign in Yemen has been a disaster, with thousands of civilian casualties.
With its many conflicts, the rest of the Middle East has also become a weapons smorgasbord, a market that is tempting for many manufacturers and western governments, like Britain and France, fuelling bloodshed in the region.