UK’s ‘moral hypocrisy’ on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

January 9, 2019 HUMAN RIGHTS , Middle East , News , OPINION/NEWS , UK

Alisdare Hickson photo



Amnesty International



Human Rights NGO Amnesty International has renewed its longstanding call on the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the risk that UK weapons will be used to commit war crimes in conflict-ravaged Yemen.


The call comes as Amnesty releases a hard-hitting animated video highlighting the UK’s failure to abide by its own arms exports control systems.


While ministers have repeatedly claimed the UK has among the world’s “toughest” or “most rigorous” arms controls, Amnesty’s one-minute video highlights a pattern of continued UK arms exports despite numerous Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen resulting in large numbers of civilian deaths.


Since the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition entered the Yemen conflict in March 2015, more than 16,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed and tens of thousands injured, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN has assessed that the majority of casualties have been the result of coalition attacks.


In nearly four years of almost constant bombing, Saudi coalition airstrikes have destroyed homes, hospitals, funeral halls, schools and factories. Last August, in one of its most notorious attacks, 40 schoolchildren were killed when their school bus was hit by a coalition airstrike.


Since the conflict began, the UK has authorised licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia worth £4.6 billion – easily the most lucrative destination country for UK arms in this period. Weaponry has included combat aircraft, bombs, missiles and equipment for the launching, handling and control of munitions.


Amnesty’s call on the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to halt arms sales to Riyadh has received the support of more than 28,000 people. In November, Denmark become the latest country to suspend the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in light of the risk that they could fuel breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen.


Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:


“The UK’s moral hypocrisy over arms to Saudi Arabia is absolutely blatant.


“While preaching about respect for human rights on the international stage, the UK continues to pour weaponry into the huge Saudi arsenal despite the clear risk that more Yemeni civilians will die as a result.


“There’s a huge disconnect between what ministers say about UK arms export ‘controls’ and the terrifying reality on the ground in Yemen.


“2019 needs to be the year the UK finally does the right thing and ends its shameful Saudi arms shipments.”



Legal challenge


In October, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK announced they would intervene in a legal case against the UK Government brought by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) to test the legality of the Government’s decision to continue issuing licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite the risk of the weapons being misused in the conflict in Yemen.


In 2017, the High Court in London dismissed CAAT’s original case, which had argued that arms transfers to Saudi Arabia should be halted because of the clear risk that the weapons supplied would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. However, having been given permission to appeal the ruling, CAAT’s case will now be heard by the Court of Appeal in April, with submissions from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK.








Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights with over 7 million members and supporters around the world. The stated objective of the organisation is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”

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