09:15 GMT21 January 2021
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    UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has asserted that an estimated 4,000 dead Yemeni civilians, killed by the Saudi military, is not a significant enough breach of international law to impose an arms ban on Riyadh.

    The debate on a cessation of UK weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, a country accused of war crimes in connection with its operations in Yemen, is set to begin this week in Parliament. Ahead of discussions, Johnson has written a letter lobbying against the ban.

    "The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law is whether those weapons might be used in a commission of a serious breach of international humanitarian law," he wrote. "Having regard to all the information available to us, we assess this test has not been met."

    Despite Johnson’s assertion, there are numerous documented cases of Saudi forces targeting civilians, including hospitals, with weapons supplied by both the UK and the US.

    On August 15, at least 11 people were killed and 19 injured in an airstrike which destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital. The week before that, there were attacks on a food processing plant and a school.

    “This is the fourth attack against an MSF facility in less than 12 months. Once again, today we witness the tragic consequences of the bombing of a hospital. Once again, a fully functional hospital full of patients and MSF national and international staff members, was bombed in a war that has shown no respect for medical facilities or patients. An aerial bomb hit the hospital compound, causing 11 people to lose their lives,” MSF desk manager for the Emergency Unit in Yemen, Teresa Sancristóval, told the Guardian.

    Johnson’s statement is based on an inquiry into eight of the most questionable incidents, and the defense that the bombings were justified due to “credible intelligence that enemy Houthi forces were in the area.”

    “They have the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. It will also allow the coalition forces to work out what went wrong and apply the lessons learned in the best possible way. This is the standard we set ourselves and our allies,” Johnson said of Saudi Arabia’s investigation into their own actions.

    Since the bombing campaign began in 2015, the UK has sold over $2.8 billion in weapons to the Saudi government. 

    Since 2010, after then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a large donation from the Saudi government, the US authorized a record $60 billion in military sales to the nation. Over $48 billion in weapon sales have already been made. This is more than triple the $16 billion authorized under George W. Bush.

    International watchdog groups such as the Control Arms Coalition (CAC) have repeatedly called for an arms embargo on the regime.

    "The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has been in force for nearly two years but some States Parties are violating it with impunity," CAC director Anna Macdonald told Common Dreams. "Every day, we are seeing the devastating impact of the sale of arms and ammunition for use on civilians in Yemen."

    Liberal Democrats, including party leader Tim Farron, are countering Johnson, urgently seeking a suspension of weapon sales from the UK.

    “The UK must urgently suspend all arms contracts with Saudi,” Farron stated.


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    Doctors Without Borders, Tim Farron, Hillary Clinton, Boris Johnson, Yemen, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia
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