Human rights groups claim the UK is breaking international law by selling arms to Saudi Arabia that may be used in Yemen
The UK sold Saudi Arabia more than £1bn worth of bombs in three months in 2015, as the kingdom ramped up its controversial war in Yemen.
Figures released by the British government on Tuesday show the UK sold Saudi Arabia £1,066,216,510 of weapons including bombs and air-to-air missiles between July and September 2015.
The arms were sold to Saudi at a time when the kingdom was heavily bombing Yemen, where Riyadh is leading an Arab coalition aimed at pushing back perceived Iran-backed Houthi rebels in order to reinstall the exiled government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
All sides fighting in Yemen have been condemned for human rights abuses. In December, UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said a “disproportionate” number of civilians had been killed in strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
The UN says more than 7,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s war, including nearly 3,000 civilians. The international body has reported that more than 80 percent of the country’s 24 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of bombing multiple hospitals in its raids, including several clinics supported by the international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has defended UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, describing the kingdom as a key ally in the fight against terrorism.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for our own security,” he told BBC Radio 4 on Monday. “They are opponents of Daesh (Islamic State) and the extremism and terror [IS spreads].
“In terms of our arms exports I think we have some of the most stringent controls anywhere in the world and I’ll always make sure they are properly operated.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that the work done by Saudi Arabia is properly targeted and it’s right that we should do that. We’re working with them and others on behalf of the legitimate government of Yemen.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir recently revealed that British and American military officials are present in the operating room of the Saudi-coalition carrying out air strikes in Yemen.
Human rights groups have condemned the UK’s role in the Yemen war, and in December 2015 Saferworld and Amnesty International accused the British government of breaking international law in their arms sales.
A legal opinion commissioned by the two groups concluded: “Any authorisation by the UK of the transfer of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia… in circumstances where such weapons are capable of being used in the conflict in Yemen, including to support its blockade of Yemeni territory, and in circumstances where their end-use is not restricted, would constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”