Damning new evidence is yet another reason why selling arms to Saudi Arabia is illegal

Bombed residential areas in Khor Maksar Yemen
Emily Apple

New evidence that shows the Saudi-led coalition is breaking humanitarian law in Yemen has been published by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Mwatana for Human Rights (Mwatana). Its research shows that the coalition:

has continued to carry out apparently unlawful attacks throughout the course of the conflict, failed to credibly investigate, and whitewashed significant civilian harm.

Arms sales to the Saudi regime are on hold after the Court of Appeal ruled they were “irrational and therefore unlawful”. The government, however, is appealing the decision. But this new evidence shows why arms sales are unlawful and should remain illegal.

“Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks”

The evidence from GLAN and Mwatana asserts that:

Coalition forces have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, and have failed to take adequate steps to ensure violations stop.

The evidence includes photographs and witness statements that directly contradict assurances from the coalition that such actions are not happening:

The submission details multiple airstrikes which the Coalition denies all responsibility for – claims that are directly contradicted by witness and photographic evidence.

It also states that the coalition:

fail[ed] to acknowledge civilian harm caused by its attacks despite readily available evidence, as well as apparently indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks on civilians and civilian objects.


The UN has long described the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the “worst in the world”. Its report in February highlighted that:

14.3 million people are classified as being in acute need, with around 3.2 million requiring treatment for acute malnutrition; that includes two million children under-five, and more than one million pregnant and lactating women.

According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 91,600 people have been killed in the war with 11,700 reported civilian deaths. Including deaths from hunger, illness and lack of access to health services, the UN predicts the total number of deaths could reach 233,000 by the end of the year.

Arms sales

The UK has played a central role in arming the Saudi regime. The government doesn’t give “exact figures”, but a House of Commons briefing paper states that:

the UK was the second largest exporter of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia (after the US) between 2010 and 2018, and larger than all other countries combined.

And that:

Between 2010 and 2018 Saudi Arabia was the largest importer of arms from the UK; the total volume of arms transfers was around 43% of the UK’s total arms export volume.

But as the briefing paper sets out, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is clear that:

£4.6bn worth of arms licensed for Saudi Arabia since March 2015, £2.7 billion worth were ML10 licenses (aircraft, helicopters, drones) and £1.9 billion were ML4 licenses (grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures).

Andrew Smith from CAAT told The Canary:

The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen would not have been possible without UK-made weapons. It has created a humanitarian crisis for Yemen, but for the arms companies it has been a major business opportunity.

“Decimating Yemen, with indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes”

Chair of Mwatana Radhya Al-Mutawakel said the coalition is:

decimating Yemen, with indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes destroying the country’s infrastructure without regard for civilians.

Al-Mutawakel also highlighted that:

The UK should have stopped selling weapons to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition a long time ago. We hope this evidence helps them finally make the right decision, and to start seriously pushing for peace.

What is happening in Yemen is a humanitarian crisis – one that has been aided and abetted by UK arms sales. As distressing as this new evidence is, hopefully it’ll be the final straw in putting an end to these sales for good.

Featured image via YouTube/IOM – UN Migration

Get involved

  • Stop the Arms Fair is organising protests from 2 September against DSEI – one of the world’s biggest arms fairs.
  • Support CAAT.

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