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British MPs criticise reliance on Saudi Arabia to investigate abuse in Yemen

Commons committee report questions government claim that Riyadh remains 'genuinely committed' to complying with humanitarian law
The committee report said probes by coalition actors were 'likely to come to the conclusion that allegations were inaccurate' (AFP)

British ministers have been criticised in a parliamentary report for relying on Saudi Arabia to investigate claims of human rights abuses by Saudi coalition forces in Yemen, amid claims UK-made weapons are fuelling its civil war.

The Commons International Development Committee on Wednesday it was "unconvinced" the Saudis were best placed to inquire into alleged breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).

It said the growing evidence of "indiscriminate bombing" by Saudi-led forces fighting the Houthi rebels, raised "serious questions" over the government's continued licensing of arms sales to the Saudis.

In February, the committee said that the flow of arms to Saudi Arabia had soared since the start of the Yemen conflict, with close to £3bn of export licences granted in the last six months, a figure that dwarfs the previous year's total.

The committee report was released after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to its co-chairman, Labour MP Stephen Twigg, to say the Saudi government "remains genuinely committed" to complying with international humanitarian law. 

Hammond said that there was "no clear risk" that Saudi might be using UK arms to commit serious human rights violations, and that Riyadh had a new team investigating claims of violations.

In its report, however, the committee said it was a longstanding principle of the rule of law that such inquiries should be independent of those being investigated.

"We are concerned that any investigation led by coalition actors is likely to come to the conclusion that the allegations were inaccurate," it said.

"The growing evidence of indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, in violation of IHL, raises serious questions over the government's continued licensing of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia.

"If there is a risk that it contravenes the UK's obligations under the laws which regulate the international arms trade, the UK should not be providing arms to one of the parties to the conflict."

David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, said that while the British government has "long been in denial" about Saudi military operations in Yemen, Hammond's comments were "extraordinary".

"[Hammond] asserts that the Saudi-led coalition has not targeted civilians in Yemen, although Human Rights Watch and others have documented multiple attacks on markets, hospitals, schools and private homes in violation of the laws of war," said Mepham.