The UK is at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes due to its sales of missiles to Saudi Arabia that have been used to target civilians in Yemen’s civil war, Foreign Office lawyers have said.
Advisers to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, have issued the legal warnings to the UK government following the controversial sale of missiles to the Saudi’s, saying that the sale of the weapons may breach international humanitarian law.
The Times of India reports:
Since March this year, bombing raids and a blockade of ports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Gulf states have crippled much of Yemen. Although the political aim is to dislodge Houthi Shia rebels and restore the exiled President, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, with schools, hospitals and non-military infrastructure hit. Fuel and food shortages, according to the United Nations, have brought near famine to many parts of the country.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs, claim there is no doubt that weapons supplied by the UK and the United States have hit Yemeni civilian targets. One senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) legal adviser told The Independent: “The Foreign Secretary has acknowledged that some weapons supplied by the UK have been used by the Saudis in Yemen. Are our reassurances correct – that such sales are within international arms treaty rules? The answer is, sadly, not at all clear.”
Although the Department for International Development recently received assurances from the Saudi government that it did not want a famine to develop on its doorstep, there is concern within the FCO that the Saudi military’s attitude to humanitarian law is careless. Officials fear that the combination of British arms sales and technical expertise used to assist bombing raids on Yemen could result in the UK being hauled before the International Criminal Court on charges relating to direct attacks on civilians.
Another government lawyer warned: “With Britain now expected to join the United States and France in the war on Isis in Syria, there will be renewed interest in the legality of the assault in Yemen. It may not be enough for the Foreign Secretary to simply restate that we have yet to carry out any detailed evaluation [of UK arms used in the bombing of Yemen].”
The legal adviser said: “Yemen could be described as a forgotten conflict. Inside the Foreign Office a course-correction is seen as crucial. It is a proxy war, with the Saudis believing Iran is behind the Houthi rebellion.”
Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s arms trade director, told The Independent: “There is a blatant rewriting of the rules inside the FCO. We are not supposed to supply weapons if there is a risk they could be used to violate humanitarian laws and the international arms trade treaty – which we championed. It is illogical for Philip Hammond to say there is no evidence of weapons supplied by the UK being misused, so we’ll keep selling them to the point where we learn they are being used.”