Campaigners on Friday delivered fake missiles to Downing Street to protest Britain’s continued supply of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns that they are being used against civilians in Yemen.
Amnesty International protesters wearing white mechanics’ boiler suits delivered five replicas of the 1.8m-long Paveway-IV weapons used by British-supplied Saudi jets outside British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.
“Ministers need to stop burying their heads in the sand and immediately suspend arms sales for the Saudi war machine,” Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said.
The Saudi-led coalition began bombing Iran-backed rebels in Yemen in March last year to support Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in a campaign that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday said had killed 3,218 civilians.
The British government conceded that UK-supplied defense equipment has been used in the campaign, but said it has “one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world.”
It said it has raised allegations of civilian targeting with the kingdom, but refused a call last month by parliament’s international development committee to suspend exports until the matter can be properly investigated.
Under Britain’s arms export criteria, licenses cannot be granted if there is “a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
The British government approved nearly ￡3 billion (US$4.34 billion) of arms licenses for exports to Saudi Arabia in the six months to January, according to the international development committee.
Amnesty said that Britain last year transferred 58 combat aircraft and 2,400 Paveway-IV missiles to the kingdom.
“It is absolutely shocking that the UK is still selling billions of pounds’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia even as the civilian casualties have mounted and mounted in Yemen,” Allen said.
A second parliamentary committee, on arms export controls, last week launched an inquiry into the use of British manufactured arms in Yemen, and is to hold its first evidence session next week.
British non-governmental organization Campaign Against Arms Trade is also pursuing legal action against the government in a bid to suspend exports.
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