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Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia 'highly likely' to be causing 'significant' civilian deaths, ministers warned

2 min read

Britain is on "the wrong side of the law" by continuing to sign-off arms exports for Saudi Arabia to use in the bloody war in Yemen, ministers have been warned.

A new report by the cross-party House of Lords international relations select committee calls on the Government to immediately halt some export licenses to the Kingdom, warning that they are "highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties" in the conflict.

The United Nations estimates that the three-year war in Yemen - which pits a Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels who ousted a Riyadh-backed government in 2015 - has killed at least 10,000 people and left millions more facing famine in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

PoliticsHome revealed last month than £4.5m-worth of arms and defence exports were given the green-light between July and September 2018, including components for mortars, turrets, projectile launchers and body armour.

The report by the influential group of peers takes aim at the Government's claim it is "narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law" in continuing to license arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

"Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, we assess that it is narrowly on the wrong side: given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, we believe they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen, risking the contravention of international humanitarian law," the committee says.

Ministers are also urged to "immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies, and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition".

And the peers argue that relying on "assurances by Saudi Arabia" that British weapons are not being used to harm civilians "is not an adequate way of implementing the obligations for a risk-based assessment set out in the arms trade treaty".

The report piles further pressure on ministers to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia following an international outcry over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But the findings come as the Mirror reports that Chancellor Philip Hammond will vist Riyadh next week, prompting anger from one Cabinet source, who told the paper: "Aren't we supposed to be taking a tough line with these beheaders?"

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