How the UK Arms the World's Dictators
January 21, 2016
Member of Parliament Diane Abbott / The New Statesman & Rowena Mason / The Guardian
Commentary: A Member of Parliament claims Britain's arms trade is undermining the humanitarian efforts of its Department of International Development. "Saudi Arabia, which buys at least a third of our arms exports, has been bombing Yemen for nine months now. The results have been, in the words of the UN's Yemen envoy Johannes van der Klauwe, 'a humanitarian catastrophe.'"
Britain Doesn't Just Sell Arms to Dictatorships -- It Sells our Silence, as Well
Member of Parliament Diane Abbott / The New Statesman
LONDON (January 20, 2016) - -- Armed with British planes and British bombs, the Arab world's richest country has been indiscriminately bombing its most impoverished. Saudi Arabia, which buys at least a third of our arms exports, has been bombing Yemen for nine months now. The results have been, in the words of the UN's Yemen envoy Johannes van der Klauwe, "a humanitarian catastrophe."
The question is, to what extent is David Cameron and the Conservative government morally and legally, complicit?
At the last official count in November, the UN said 5,878 people had been killed and 27,867 wounded. Those who survive do so in a living hell: 82 percent (more than 21 million people) need aid, 50 percent (12 million people) lack regular access to water; 57 percent (14.4 million people) are "food insecure"; 31 percent (7.6 million people) are starving and 10 percent (2.5 million people) have fled their homes.
In December, Save the Children assessed that the conflict had put 1.8 million children out of school and put 1,000 schools beyond use.
Saudi Arabia now stands accused of war crimes. Rights groups, the press and the UN report of regular indiscriminate killings. Three Medecins Sans Frontieres hospitals have been hit across Yemen.
In September last year, UK-made cruise missiles struck a ceramics factory and a water bottling factory, killing dozens of workers, whose bodies melted into the machinery. In Saana on one day alone this month, a wedding hall, a hospital for blind students and the Chamber of Commerce were hit.
These incidents are notable only because they are well documented.
And while Saudi Arabia pulls the trigger, it is Britain which ever-faithfully reloads and replaces its weapons. Since March 1 2015, we have granted over 100 requests for military equipment, suspending only a handful. In the first three months of the war alone, UK business made £1.7 billion in turnover by selling arms to the House of Saud -- £400 million more than the total global aid given to Yemen since the start of the war.
Britain's arms trade is undermining the humanitarian efforts of its Department of International Development (DFID), which gives £106m a year (2015/2016) in aid to Yemen.
Some argue that, when compared to the billions made from selling arms to the aggressors, our aid to the Yemini people is a drop in the bucket, no better than blood money.
It is ironic that while Matthew Rycroft -- our own government's envoy to the UN -- reports that "Yemenis are in the midst of one of the very worst humanitarian crises in the world", we are complicit in the crime of exacerbating that very crisis.
I use the word "crime" advisedly. In a legal opinion commissioned by Amnesty UK, Professor Philippe Sands QC said that Britain is in breach of its own Export Control Act 2002, the EU Common Position and its international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) for selling arms to a state at risk of violating international law or committing human rights abuses.
It is shocking that Britain cannot even adhere to its own arms export law -- even though the consolidated rules to which the law refers were already weakened in March 2014. In a move criticized by a former Tory defence minister, the government watered down official advice to suspend arms exports at risk of being used for internal repression.
In October 2014, Sir John Stanley, then chair of the Committee for Arms Export Controls, told Parliament that the decision "significantly weakens the test for arms exports", asserting that the government had a "more relaxed approach to arms exports that could be used for internal repression".
I have today tabled parliamentary questions to the FCO asking if his office considers the UK in breach of domestic, EU and international law. Labour has also called for the committee on arms export controls, which has not met once since Saudi started bombing Yemen, to be reconvened.
Our disregard for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is particularly saddening. Signed and ratified by the UK on Christmas Eve 2014, the ATT was fought hard for by stakeholders working with one another across the political spectrum: Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Conservative MP Alistair Burt, the TUC and, notably, the Defence Manufacturers Association (DMA).
When the arms industry's own workers lobby the state for a treaty which is then routinely broken by that state, the government cannot claim, as it does, that we must sell arms to war criminals because British jobs depend on it.
British workers do not want the arms sold in their name if they are used to break humanitarian law. It is not workers but the government that is determined to sell arms come what may, fueling and legitimizing human rights abuses across the world in the process.
Successive governments have lobbied hard internationally for British arms manufacturers and have on more than one occasion invoked national security to scupper investigations into their alleged fraud.
Despite this cozy relationship, manufacturers' profits are protected from public disclosure on the basis of confidentiality. It is however safe to say that UK arms firms such as BAE Systems, and Rolls Royce are -- quite literally -- making a killing.
When Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain or Egypt buy our arms, they also buy our silence on their human rights abuses.
We must have the moral courage to end this silence.
Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
UK Arms Sold to Saudi Arabia
May Breach International Law in Yemen, Labour Says
Rowena Mason, Political correspondent / The Guardian
"Bombing hospitals and schools cannot become the new normal."
-- Vickie Hawkins
LONDON (January 19, 2016) -- Labour is calling for the urgent re-establishment of parliament's watchdog on arms exports to investigate whether British weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen.
Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, urged action by the House of Commons committee on arms export controls after it emerged that the body has not re-convened since the general election last May. This means the UK's arms sales have not been subject to independent scrutiny for more than nine months.
The committee had been instrumental in embarrassing the coalition government over its decision to allow the sale of chemicals that could have been used in nerve agent weapons in Syria. Formed of members of the foreign affairs, defence, development and business committees, it ceased its work after its chair, Sir John Stanley, retired last year after 15 years at the helm.
With no sign of it reconvening since, Benn wrote to the chairs of the four committees on Tuesday, saying there was an pressing need to scrutinise the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia, which is using them in Yemen. He said the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting rebel Houthis, is increasingly desperate, with 7,000 civilians having been killed by airstrikes.
"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. I hope therefore that the new committee will urgently consider examining the government's approach to these licences," Benn wrote.
British weapons companies have sold more than £5.6bn worth of arms, fighter jets and other military equipment to Riyadh under David Cameron, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). British "people on the ground" are also working with the Saudi military on targeting strikes in Yemen, according to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.
The government has resisted previous calls by Benn and others to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia or assess whether UK-made weapons are being used in breach of humanitarian law.
Amnesty International and Saferworld say more than 100 licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been issued since bombing in Yemen began in March 2015, with a value of £1.75bn in the first half of the year.
Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, who was on the committee for years, has previously expressed suspicions that there were those who did not want arms sales scrutinised.
"There have been more and more delays. I'm very unhappy there hasn't been anything for at least eight months," she said, adding that the "global situation regarding conflict and arms transfers, not least as it affects the Middle East and north Africa, makes it vital to have the committees functioning at the earliest possible date".
Andrew Smith of the CAAT said the group shared Clwyd's concerns about the lack of scrutiny. He said the committee's work under Stanley was "very good and very valuable" and was needed more than ever given the government's decision to continue to allow sales of arms to Saudi Arabia despite concerns about their use in Yemen.
The law firm Leigh Day, representing the CAAT, is considering legal action against the government unless it suspends all licences that permit British-made weapons to be sent to Saudi Arabia.
The law firm and campaigners said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had failed to reassure them that the government was following its own rules when assessing the risk that the goods exported might be used in contravention of international humanitarian law.
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