The British Ministry of Defense has monitored more than 500 raids by the Saudi coalition in Yemen, which constitute a possible violation of international law, despite that London justified its decision to resume selling arms to Riyadh by saying that they were “isolated incidents.”
A report by The Guardian stated that the Saudi coalition raids, according to the official British monitoring, affected schools, hospitals, and homes, and turned population centers into massacres and entered Yemen in a severe humanitarian crisis.
In response to an urgent question in the House of Commons regarding the resumption of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Minister of Commerce, Greg Hands, refused to specify the number of bombing incidents that the United Kingdom had reviewed before agreeing to grant arms export licenses again to Riyadh.
He also said that he would not publish any British government reports about Saudi strikes in Yemen, noting that he had no “liberty” to do so, because information of this kind from confidential sources.
Yet following a written question from an MP asking for the number of violations or breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since 2015, the defence minister, James Heappey, replied: “As at 4 July, the number of alleged instances of breaches or violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Yemen listed on the ‘Tracker’ database maintained by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is 535.”
The written answer says that of the 535 instances, 19 are duplicate entries, meaning that some incidents will have been recorded on more than one occasion likely because of the incomplete nature of reporting, and the number of known instances is at least 516.
The last time a comparable number was published by the UK government was in December 2017 when 318 were recorded, representing an increase of 200 incidents in just over two-and-a-half years.
The court of appeal last year ruled in a judicial review that UK arms sales to Saudi were unlawful because no internal assessment of the lawfulness of the Saudi campaign had been made by the UK government.
Ministers announced last week it had now conducted such a review of the Saudi campaign and so could lawfully recommence the granting of the government arms export licences.
It said the review showed there had been no pattern to the isolated breaches of international law, and so there could have been no intent to breach the law by Saudi Arabia.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said it was now examining all legal options to challenge the government’s decision to restart arms sales, and the scant ministerial justification provided to MPs on Monday will encourage campaigners into believing a further court action could succeed.
CAAT spokesman Andrew Smith said: “The government claims that any violations of International Humanitarian Law are isolated incidents, but the MoD itself is aware of 516 of them.
“These are not statistics, they are people’s lives. Saudi forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes. They have turned gatherings into massacres and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on Yemen.”