Government backtracks on Saudi Arabia human rights claims in Yemen

Posted On: 
21st July 2016

The Government has sensationally backtracked on its insistence that Saudi Arabia has not committed human rights violations in its war on Yemen.

A United Nations panel has raised human rights concerns about more than 100 missions conducted by the Saudis over Yemen
Credit: 
PA Images

In an astonishing statement today a minister corrected a range of claims made over the past year that there has been no breach of human rights by Riyadh in the Middle Eastern state.

Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood instead asserted that the Government has not yet assessed whether international humanitarian law had been violated nor whether civilians have been targeted.

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Since the conflict started in March 2015, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni army, which remains loyal to President Hadi.

A Saudi-led coalition is launching airstrikes against Houthi forces and has been accused of numerous humanitarian breaches since it began operations.

The UK government said in January, February and June that it deemed no international humanitarian laws had been breached by Saudi Arabia - a key ally in the region - but has today rowed back on the claim.

Responding to a parliamentary question in February, then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond said: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (International Humanitarian Law) by the coalition.”

But in a Written Ministerial Statement today, Mr Elwood said the answer should have read: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

A written answer in January claiming there was “no evidence” humanitarian law had been breached was today corrected to say the Government had been “unable to assess the matter”.

In June, former foreign minister David Lidington told a debate the government had decided the Saudis were “not targeting civilians”, but apparently should have said “the MOD has not assessed that the Saudi-led coalition is targeting civilians”.

The Scottish National Party has insisted Britain is effectively taking part in the airstrikes since it supplies Saudi Arabia with arms - a notion rejected by the Government.

But an assertion made in March that the Government was making “our own assessments” as to whether the arms supplied by Britain were being used in the conflict was today changed to read:

“We make it clear that we are doing our own analysis. We encourage the Saudis to conduct their own investigations to understand whether the equipment we sell has any participation in that and indeed whether the breaches are by the Houthis or the Saudi Arabians.”

The statement released today - one of a barrage put out by the Government containing damning revelations - added: “It is important to make clear that neither the MOD nor the FCO reaches a conclusion as to whether or not an IHL violation has taken place in relation to each and every incident of potential concern that comes to its attention.

“This would simply not be possible in conflicts to which the UK is not a party, as is the case in Yemen.”

A United Nations panel has raised concerns about more than 100 missions conducted by the Saudis over Yemen.

The British Government has backed a Saudi investigation into the alleged crimes, while in March Mr Hammond said Britain would support the Saudi effort "in every practical way short of engaging in combat".