Between 2011 and 2020, the UK licensed £16.8 billion of arms to 39 countries castigated by Freedom House, a US government-funded human rights group, for their poor record on political and human rights, British daily newspaper The Guardian reported on Sunday.
The London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) also found that during the same period, £11.8 billion of arms had been authorized by the British government to countries on the Foreign Office’s own list of repressive regimes.
The British Department for International Trade has also identified nine countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, as “core markets” for arms exports. The countries have been widely criticized for human rights abuses.
“Right now, UK-made weapons are playing a devastating role in Yemen and around the world. The arms sales that are being pushed today could be used in atrocities and abuses for years to come,” said Andrew Smith of the CAAT.
“Wherever there is oppression and conflict there will always be arms companies trying to profit from it, and complicit governments helping them to do so,” Smith said.
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, emboldened by Western powers’ weapons and support, launched a deadly military campaign against Yemen in March 2015 to reinstall the former Riyadh-friendly Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The war – which they claimed would last only a few weeks but is still ongoing – has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including women and children, and destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure.
Throughout the campaign, the British government kept up arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite widespread reports that the weapons are being used against civilians.
The UK has sold combat aircraft, helicopters, drones, grenades, bombs and missiles to Riyadh, with most weapons licensed via the opaque and secretive Open License system.
According to Sarah Waldron of the CAAT, “UK-made weapons have been central to a bombardment that has destroyed schools, hospitals and homes and created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”
“Many of these sales are going to despots, dictatorships and human rights abusing regimes. They haven’t happened by accident. None of these arms sales would have been possible without the direct support of Boris Johnson and his colleagues,” Smith added.
Back in February, Oxfam, an international charity organization, warned that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia could prolong the war in Yemen.
The UK is “ramping up its support for the brutal Saudi-led war by increasing arms sales and refueling equipment that facilitate airstrikes,” said Sam Nadel, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam.