DailyRecord, UK — MPs from all parties have called for an immediate ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Scottish-made bombs were used against civilians in Yemen’s civil war.
We told last week how fragments of so-called smart bombs dropped in Yemen revealed they were guided by laser systems made in Scotland by an American arms giant as campaigners branded the aerial bombardment a war crime.
On Thursday, a confidential report by United Nations experts said a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia had violated international humanitarian law by bombing a civilian home in Al-Mahala village in May.
MPs on Westminster’s influential committee on arms export controls yesterday said the UK government must halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
SNP MP Douglas Chapman said: “It is clear that until there is a full, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, there should be no arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“The committee on arms export controls began collating evidence of Saudi war crimes in Yemen
earlier this year.
“The evidence I have heard from credible sources, including from experts on Middle East affairs, has been clear – there are convincing allegations of war crimes and clearly nothing has been done to investigate this.
“Aerial bombing by the Saudi-led coalition has led to an unprecedented number of civilian casualties. Those who use these weapons and make decisions as to their targets have clearly done little to ensure innocent civilians are not affected.
“Regardless of where the weaponry is built, that is wrong. I expect that the committee’s final report, which I have yet to see, will reinforce the message that alleged war crimes are ongoing and the UK government need to respond swiftly and with a firm hand.
“Where such credible and numerous allegations have been made, the UK government should postpone these exports immediately.”
Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon said: “I want to see a stop to British bombs – or bombs from anywhere – being used in indiscriminate bombing in Yemen by forces we have no control over.
“I am aware that arms sales are a very important part of the economic life of the UK but British bombs should not be used in the blanket bombing of civilian areas in Yemen, in which innocents are killed.”
More than 6000 people, half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen since March 2015 when war broke out between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to exiled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
The report to the UN Security Council also said Houthis had concealed fighters and equipment
in or close to civilians in Al Mukha “with the deliberate aim of avoiding attack” and in violation of international humanitarian law.
Saudi Arabia has said it is committed to international humanitarian law.
Last week, we reported that a code on a bomb fragment found in Sana’a revealed it was made by a subcontractor for US arms giant Raytheon.
The bomb, guided by the system made by the now-defunct electronics firm based in the Borders, was found in the debris of an alleged war crime when a chambers of commerce was targeted in January this year.
Belkis Wille investigated the attack for Human Rights Watch and said there have been at least 69 unlawful coalition airstrikes that killed more than 900 civilians. She believes the UK government have been misleading during discussions on alleged war crimes.
She said: “The UK government have consistently told us in every meeting that they have conducted assessments based on all of our reports and on the individual attacks and that, in their view, the coalition have not committed a single violation in international humanitarian law.
“And that’s sort of where the conversation ends. There is no room to even start to begin to talk about what can we do to get the coalition to improve their behaviour – they simply say the coalition are not committing any abuses.”
Wille’s comments follow revelations that the UK government misled parliament six times over Yemen. In an unprecedented move, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood issued corrections to six statements on the Yemen crisis dating back almost six months.
MPs and campaigners have been asking the UK government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of alleged war crimes. But in statements dating back to February, ministers said: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”.
But the Foreign Office have now admitted that statements should have said: “We have been unable to assess that there has been a breach of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition”.
Ross Greer MSP, external affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “It’s bad enough that the Westminster government sneaked out retractions of statements on the last day of Parliament but it’s simply appalling to hear that they have been misleading human rights monitors in regular meetings.
“Allegations of war crimes should be taken seriously and acted upon but, given the UK government’s support for the Saudi-led coalition and their approval of arms sales to the Saudi government, we probably shouldn’t be surprised, just appalled.”
Patrick Grady MSP, of the SNP, said: “MPs were led to believe the UK government had undertaken
assessments of the claims of human rights abuses in Yemen made by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others. Now the Government admit they have carried out no assessments on possible breaches of humanitarian law during the conflict in Yemen.
“The SNP have called for an international, independent investigation into potential breaches of humanitarian law and, in the meantime, there must be a halt of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“My colleague Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP has written to the Speaker of the House of Commons calling for the Foreign Secretary to appear as soon as possible after recess so he can answer for his department’s misleading claims.”
An investigation by the Saudi-led coalition presented on Thursday largely defended airstrikes on markets, clinics and a wedding in Yemen, citing the presence of armed militiamen at the sites. The coalition have said they’re keen to avoid civilian casualties and uphold the laws of war.
Raytheon said: “Raytheon’s capabilities contribute towards making the world a safer place and naturally the company comply with all export regulations in any of the markets in which they operate.
“Raytheon are a significant contributor to the economy in Scotland through employing well over 600 people in Glenrothes and through exporting £500million of advanced systems and technologies since 2002.”
The Foreign Office said: “The UK is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen and hosted talks recently with international partners to drive progress.
“We support the UN-led negotiations in Kuwait and urge all parties to abide by the current cessation of hostilities.
“The clarifications ensure consistency with numerous other Parliamentary responses and in no way represent a change in policy.
“The UK continues to monitor the conflict in Yemen closely and relevant information gathered from that monitoring is taken into account as part of the careful risk assessment for the licensing of exports to Saudi Arabia.”