The extraordinary increase in UK arms sales occurred between July and September under five government-backed licenses, documents from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills show.
The government documents also reveal that in the three months leading up to July, UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the same type of munitions amounted to £9 million (US$12.75 million).
The dramatic surge in UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia has been decried by Amnesty International (AI) UK, which warns of grave human rights violations in Yemen.
“As officials were signing off these sales, hundreds – possibly thousands – of Yemeni civilians were dying in a terrifying barrage of indiscriminate Saudi airstrikes in the country.”
Hogarth said the law is unequivocal in the context of the Saudi-led airstrikes.
“Any Saudi attack, whether deliberate or not, that fails to adequately protect civilians is a violation of international law,” he said.
“And our obligations are equally clear – as a major supplier of Saudi Arabia’s weaponry, the UK is legally obliged to suspend arms exports.”
He called upon the British government to face up to the reality of Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen,“immediately suspend export licenses” for further UK arms sales to the Gulf state, and preside over a full inquiry into allegations of grave violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
Violations of humanitarian international law
Conflict resolution group Saferworld also condemned the spike in sales, stressing that Saudi-led airstrikes had hit civilian-populated areas in Yemen.
“The day after the prime minister [David Cameron] claimed to be ‘trying to encourage a political process in Yemen’ and declared ‘there is no military solution in Yemen’, official figures reveal that in just the three months July to September, the government approved the sale of over £1 billion worth of bombs for the use of the Royal Saudi Air Force,” a spokesperson for the group told the Guardian.
“This is the same air force that has bombed hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a displaced persons camp and helped to turn Yemen into a living nightmare.”
The analysis was conducted by prominent international law experts Philippe Sands QC, Professor Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh. The lawyers, who work for London-based law firm Matrix Chambers, concluded that the UK government is violating its duty under Britain’s Consolidated Criteria on arms exports, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the global Arms Trade Treaty by allowing transfers of weapons and other military wares to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
Prime Minister David Cameron defended Britain’s arms trade with the Saudis on Monday, arguing the UK has the most robust export controls on weapons in the world.
“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’re properly operated,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“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 on Yemen.”
‘Suspend UK licenses’
However, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn called for increased scrutiny of Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as the humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to worsen.
Benn wrote to the foreign affairs, defense, development and business committees, calling for the re-establishment of the House of Commons committee on arms export controls.
“Given the growing number of reports and public concern, I believe the case for a full and detailed assessment of whether there is a clear risk that British weapons might be used in violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen is now overwhelming,” Benn said.
“I hope therefore that the new committee will urgently consider examining the government’s approach to these licences.”
RT asked the government whether it plans to suspend further licenses authorizing the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia amid allegations that the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial bombing of Yemen is violating international humanitarian law. The government is yet to respond.