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UK government in 'denial and disarray' over treaty it helped create to regulate the arms trade

23rd Aug 2016

The UK government has switched from being an enthusiastic backer of the international Arms Trade Treaty into one of the most significant violators, international agency Oxfam will say today at the second Conference of State Parties to the treaty in Geneva.

Speaking at the conference Penny Lawrence, Deputy Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, will say:

"UK arms and military support are fuelling a brutal war in Yemen, harming the very people the Arms Trade Treaty is designed to protect. Schools, hospitals and homes have been bombed in contravention of the rules of war. 

"The UK government is in denial and disarray over its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen. 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. How can the Government insist that others abide by a treaty it helped set up if it flagrantly ignores it?"

Oxfam said that there are more people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen - 21.2 million people - than any other country in the world. Over 6,000 people have been killed in the war according to the UN. More than 3 million people have been uprooted from their homes and over 14 million people, half the population, are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. 

While all sides are responsible for serious breaches of international law, the UN reports that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together.

The UK government has been supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition for use in the war in Yemen, including export licences for £3.3bn worth of arms in 12 months from March 2015 when the war intensified. The UK is also providing Saudi Arabia with military advice and personnel, both Ministry of Defence personnel and private contractors.

In February this year the Government told Parliament that it had assessed that there had not been any breach of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition only to correct its statement in July stating that there had been no such assessment. Under the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is incorporated into UK law, the Government must suspend and revoke existing arms export licences to Saudi Arabia until it can be certain there is no risk that any arms will be used by the Saudi military to commit breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen. 

Oxfam has received a legal opinion that UK arms transfers to Saudi Arabia constitute a clear violation of its national, regional and international arms transfer obligations under the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, and the Arms Trade Treaty. 

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For more information contact: Ian Bray on ibray@oxfam.org.uk / +44 (0)1865 472289 / +44 (0)7721 461 339

For updates, please follow @oxfamgbpress