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UK violates arms treaty

UK government in 'denial and disarray' over treaty it helped create to regulate the arms trade
Arms in Yemen

The UK government has switched from being an enthusiastic backer of the international Arms Trade Treaty into one of its most significant violators, according to Oxfam.

Crisis in Yemen

Oxfam said that there are more people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen – 21.2 million people – than any other country in the world. Over 6,000 people have been killed in the war according to the UN.

More than 3 million people have been uprooted from their homes and over 14 million people, half the population, are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

‘UK arms and military support are fuelling a brutal war in Yemen, harming the very people the Arms Trade Treaty is designed to protect. Schools, hospitals and homes have been bombed in contravention of the rules of war.’

Deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB

While all sides are responsible for serious breaches of international law, the UN reports that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together.

UK supplying arms

The UK government has been supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition for use in the war in Yemen, including export licences for £3.3bn worth of arms in 12 months from March 2015 when the war intensified

The UK is also providing Saudi Arabia with military advice and personnel – both Ministry of Defence personnel and private contractors.

‘The UK government is in denial and disarray over its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen. It 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. How can the government insist that others abide by a treaty it helped set up if it flagrantly ignores it?’

Deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB

In February this year the government told Parliament that it had assessed that there had not been any breach of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition. It then corrected itself in July, stating that there had been no such assessment.

‘A clear violation’

Under the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is incorporated into UK law, the government must suspend and revoke existing arms export licences to Saudi Arabia until it can be certain there is no risk that any arms will be used by the Saudi military to commit breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen.

Oxfam has received a legal opinion that UK arms transfers to Saudi Arabia constitute a clear violation of its national, regional and international arms transfer obligations under the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the Arms Trade Treaty.

Click here for more from Oxfam about why we need a global Arms Trade Treaty.

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