An international aid organisation has accused British politicians of being in “denial and disarray” over the selling of arms to Saudi Arabia for potential use in the war in Yemen.
Oxfam said on Tuesday that the UK was violating the International Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates the transfer of conventional arms to ensure there are no violations of international humanitarian law.
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“UK arms and military support are fuelling a brutal war in Yemen, harming the very people the Arms Trade Treaty is designed to protect,” Penny Lawrence, Oxfam UK deputy chief executive, told a conference in Geneva.
“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.”
Governments who sign the arms treaty are obliged to review their weapon sales and ensure that they are not being used for human rights violations.
Anna Macdonald, the director of the Control Arms Secretariat campaign group, said the war’s effect on the civilian population in Yemen means “no arms sales should be going ahead to any warring party” in the conflict.
“We are very concerned that the UK government continues to authorise arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners at a time when this war is raging on and there is a very high risk that the weapons will be used against civilians,” Macdonald told Al Jazeera.
According to the campaign group, the UK authorised an arms licence to Saudi Arabia worth $4bn in 2015.
Earlier this year, the British government said it was confident that Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen did not violate standards set by the treaty. However, it later withdrew that statement, saying it could not verify such a claim, but that it had not been a deliberate attempt to mislead parliamentarians.
“Countless well-respected lawyers have now provided evidence that shows that the risk [of violating humanitarian law] is extremely high and that the UK has flouted its own national laws and international law,” Macdonald said.
A non-governmental organisation, according to Macdonald, has now taken out a judicial review to attempt to force the UK to “reverse its decision” on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Yemen descended into chaos after the 2012 removal of long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces are now fighting alongside Shia Houthi rebels.
Security deteriorated further after the Houthis swept into Sanaa and pushed south, forcing the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee into exile in March last year.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Arab states to fight the Houthis.
As of January 2016, 2,800 civilians had been killed by the fighting, with 8,100 casualties overall, according to the UN.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that coalition air strikes caused almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths, while the Houthis have been accused of causing mass civilian casualties due to a siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.