UK-Saudi Arabia arms deals create innocent victims in Yemen
Oxfam leads the charge against the UK, guilty of violating the treaty it signed. Its weapons are used against “Schools, hospitals and homes”. For a British government spokesperson, sales meet export “criteria”. Last year, the UK sold US$ 4 billion in weapons.
Sana'a (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Oxfam has accused the British government of "denial and disarray" over an agreement to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
The aid agency noted that British weapons sold to Saudi Arabia contribute to a "brutal war in Yemen, harming people" that targets “Schools, hospitals and homes”.
Activists and NGOs have appealed to the British government to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of violating humanitarian and international law in the conflict in Yemen.
Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody internal conflict pitting the country’s Sunni leaders, backed by Riyadh, against Shia Houthi rebels, close to Iran.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes against the rebels in an attempt to free the capital Sana'a and bring back then exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. So far the air campaign has killed at least 6,400 people, mostly civilians.
For Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, allied to forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are supported militarily by Iran, a charge that Tehran rejects.
Extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and jihadist militias linked to Islamic State are active in the country, a fact that has helped escalate violence and terror.
A British government spokeswoman said that the deal with the Saudis meets UK’s export licensing "criteria”.
She added that the government takes its responsibilities "very seriously" and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world, and that the use of these weapons does not violate international laws.
According to Oxfam, the UK has switched from being an "enthusiastic backer" of the Arms Trade Treaty to "one of the most significant violators".
The treaty sets international standards for the trade in conventional arms and seeks to prevent illegal arms trading.
Governments who sign up to it – such as the UK – are expected to review arms export contracts to ensure the weapons do not violate existing arms embargoes, that they will not be used for war crimes, human rights abuses or organised crime, and that they will not be diverted for illegal use.
However, for Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB, the British government “has misled its own parliament about its oversight of arms sales and its international credibility is in jeopardy as it commits to action on paper but does the opposite in reality”.
In view of this, how can the government insist that other nations abide by a treaty it helped set up "if it flagrantly ignores it?"
Last year the British government approved more than £ 3 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The United States approved £ 4 billion worth and France almost £ 14 billion. Worldwide, the weapons trade is believed to be worth £1.3tn annually.
On several occasions, Pope Francis has spoken out against the arms trade – which has spread death and destruction in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and all areas of the world where there is an ongoing conflict.
As one of the few critical voices, the Argentine pontiff strongly denounced weapons trade in his message for the peace campaign in Syria promoted by Caritas Internationalis. In it, he also pointed out that “some of the countries supplying these arms are also among those that talk of peace.”