Saudi Arabia and Yemen
Many constituents have contacted me about the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the conflict in Yemen. I do note the concerns that have been raised and, as a former Minister for Middle East, I am following the situation closely.
I am reassured that the Government takes seriously its legal obligations as regards the licensing of arms for export to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The UK has one of the most rigorous licensing regimes in the world.
Each application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking into account the precise nature of the equipment and the identity and track record of the recipient. The Government has consistently said it does not, and will not, issue licences where it judges that the proposed export would provoke or prolong internal conflicts, or where there is a clear risk it might be used to facilitate internal repression or be used aggressively against another country. I believe the Government have applied this criteria to the conflict in Yemen. In addition, the Government has the power to suspend or revoke any export licence should it consider that this is a necessary and appropriate step.
The Government is aware of legal opinion having been provided by non-governmental organisations regarding Saudi Arabia. Allegations made by NGOs are investigated by the Coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team. The outcomes of this investigation will be taken into account when assessing the Government's position. This, in turn, informs the risk assessment made during licensing judgements.
As you know, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed in December that a limited number of BL755 cluster munitions that were exported from the UK in the 1980s were used in Yemen, including by a coalition aircraft not far from the Saudi border. The coalition, whose members are not parties to the convention on cluster munitions, has said that they were used against a legitimate military target and did not therefore contravene international humanitarian law. However, Saudi Arabia has now confirmed that it will not use BL755 cluster munitions further, which I welcome.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it is investigating reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law. This is an important process and the UK is fully behind thorough investigations into all allegations of violations of International Law.
The Government continues to monitor the situation closely, using cross-Departmental resources to seek further information. Additionally, the Government continues to welcome any further information NGOs can provide.
In relation to the conflict in Yemen, the UK supports the campaign of a coalition of Arab States to restore the legitimate Government in Yemen. This is a campaign that has the backing of the legitimate President of Yemen, as well as the United Nations. Ultimately, a political solution is the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and peace talks are a top priority, which the UK continues to demand with urgency.The Foreign and Commonwealth Office assure me that the UK is playing a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN Special Envoy's tireless efforts to achieve this.
The Government is also continuing to urge all parties to the conflict to take all reasonable steps to allow the delivery and distribution of aid, and to facilitate rapid and safe humanitarian access, as well as calling upon all sides to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
We have more than doubled our humanitarian funding to Yemen over the last year, making the UK the fourth largest donor to the humanitarian crisis. We are providing vital medical supplies, water, food and nutrition, and emergency shelter to those most in need and have so far supported more than 1.3 million Yemenis. We need to build resilience and protect key institutions to help lay the foundations for post-conflict recovery.
I recently spoke in a Parliamentary debate about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and you may like to read my speech here: http://tinyurl.com/j6fhpqb