The European Parliament has voted in favour of an EU-wide arms embargo against Saudi Arabia over its operation in Yemen.
The resolution calls for a ban on all weapons sales to the country, until alleged breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen have been investigated, and was passed by 359 votes to 212
While the vote does not compel EU member states to act, it does increase pressure on Riyadh, in the wake of criticism from the UN and growing international alarm over civilian casualties in Yemen.
The Independent reports:
Criticism of the country’s military operation have however included the bombing of multiple hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières and the deaths of thousands of civilians, including 130 at a single wedding.
While international observers have recognised abuses on all sides, in late December UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that a “disproportionate” number of attacks of civilians in Yemen had come from the Saudi-led invasion force.
“I have observed with extreme concern the continuation of heavy shelling from the ground and the air in areas with high a concentration of civilians as well as the perpetuation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – in particular hospitals and schools – by all parties to the conflict, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by Coalition forces,” Mr Zeid said.
The UN has also said Saudi Arabia is contributing to a “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen.
Figures reported by the Independent in January showed British arms firms cashing in on the conflict, with sales of bombs and missiles to the autocratic regime surging from £9 million to £1 billion in just three months last year.
The Government must approve all arms exports by UK companies abroad. Overall UK licences granted to military equipment to the country are £6.7 billion since David Cameron took office in 2010 and £2.8 billion since the bombing of Yemen began.
Recent opinion polling by Opinium found that 62 per cent of UK adults oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 16 per cent supporting them.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the sale of European weapons to the region was fuelling the war in the region and that EU member states should listen to the European Parliament.
“The European Parliament has sent a clear, strong and much needed message to governments like the UK, that have been complicit in the destruction of Yemen,” he said.
“The toxic combination of arms sales and political support has helped to fuel, facilitate and legitimise the humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place.”
Alyn Smith, a Scottish National Party MEP involved in the tabling the motion, said Europe had a duty to the civilians of Yemen being killed by Saudi Arabian weaponry.
“I have a close association with Saudi Arabia. I grew up there and I am sensitive to the realities of the Saudis and appreciate that the Saudis have concerns in their neighbourhood,” Mr Smith said.
“But our duty is to the civilians in Yemen, and given widespread and very valid concerns over the conduct of the war by Saudi forces, our call for an EU-wide arms embargo is proportionate and necessary.”
Mr Smith, who is a lawyer by profession and who sits on the EP’s foreign affairs committee, said he believed EU-made weapons being exported to Saudi Arabia were breaching international law.
Earlier this year lawyers from the Leigh Day firm, representing Campaign Against the Arms Trade, took steps towards a legal challenge of the British Government’s arms sales.
Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP who is the Socialist group’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said Europe had a legal duty to work towards the end of the crisis in Yemen.
“This is a clear humanitarian appeal to end the bloodshed in Yemen, and call on Saudi Arabia to pursue a political rather than a military solution to the conflict,” he said.
“Europe and the world must not ignore the unacceptable death toll in Yemen, and the European Parliament voted today that the allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen are now so serious that continuing arms sales would constitute a breach of the EU’s own legally-agreed Code of Conduct.”
Parliament’s International Development Committee earlier this month said the UK should suspend all arms sales to Saudi.
The resolution should turns up the heat on the British government, which has supplied export licences for up to £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the last year.
The UK has been accused of direct involvement in the bombing campaign through the deployment of UK military personnel to the kingdom.
Prime minister David Cameron has defended UK’s alliance with the Kingdom arguing that Britain’s relationship with the petro-state was an important one for ‘our security’.
In November last year UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that he wanted to sell even more munitions to Saudi Arabia.