Britain signed up to nearly 1.4 billion pounds ($ 1.9 billion) worth of arms exports to Saudi Arabia between July and September last year following the lifting of a ban on arms sales to the Gulf nation – a move criticized as “immoral” amid continuing the war. in Yemen.
The publication of the figures by Britain’s Department of International Trade on Tuesday comes days after new United States President Joe Biden said his country was ending all support “for offensive operations” by the Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, including “relevant arms sales”.
The announcement prompted increased calls for Britain – a key US ally – to do the same, but British officials have so far refused to follow suit.
The UK’s previous moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia came into effect in June 2019 after the High Court issued a landmark ruling that forced officials to stop selling amid fears the weapons would be used in violation of international humanitarian law.
A subsequent government review concluded that there were “isolated incidents” of possible abuses by Saudi forces in Yemen, but “no clear risk” of future serious violations. Officials announced in July 2020 that Britain would resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia – its biggest arms buyer – after the review’s findings.
In the three-month period following its resumption, Britain authorized arms exports worth 1.39 billion pounds ($ 1.9 billion), according to government figures. The weapons category including missiles and bombs accounted for 1.36 billion pounds ($ 1.88 billion) of sales, although the figure does not specify which manufacturers received export authorizations.
An anti-arms trade campaigner denounced the sale as “shocking” and said the figures “reflect the British government’s determination to keep supplying arms at any cost”.
“British-made weapons have played a devastating role in the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis they created, but the British government has done everything it can to keep arms sales flowing,” Sarah Waldron, spokeswoman for the Campaign Against Arms Trading (CAAT), said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Now even the US is limiting the sale of its weapons, while the British government continues to foment war,” said CAAT’s Waldron. “They must change course now and work to support meaningful peace.”
Martin Butcher, conflict adviser to international aid group Oxfam, said British politicians had “once again … put profits before the life of Yemen” and branded arms sales documented on Tuesday as “immoral”.
“Arms exports to Saudi Arabia must stop immediately,” Butcher said in a statement. “Yemen is experiencing the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, with two-thirds of its population dependent on food aid, yet people are profiting from the suffering caused by these arms sales.”
Al Jazeera reached out to the Department of International Trade to comment on the criticism leveled against the government. In response, a spokesman said the UK operates “one of the most comprehensive export control regimes in the world”.
“The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and strictly assesses all export permits according to strict licensing criteria,” the spokesman said. “We will not issue an export permit which does not fit these criteria.”
The conflict in Yemen started in 2014 when the Houthis seized much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The war escalated in March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition stepped in in a bid to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
The coalition has been assisted by several Western powers, including Britain and the US. According to the CAAT, Britain has authorized a £ 6.8 billion ($ 9.3 billion) arms sale to Saudi Arabia since March 2015.
The two sides to the Yemen conflict have since been accused of war crimes during the fighting that has killed more than 110,000 people to date, including more than 12,500 civilians, according to the Locations of Armed Conflict and Event Data project.
Peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict have stalled since late 2018, despite repeated attempts by UN officials to revive negotiations and end what he calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Based on The United Nations, 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people depend on humanitarian assistance to survive.