Boris Johnson pressed Liam Fox to continue exports of weapons to Saudi Arabia after the bombing of a funeral in Yemen last October that killed more than 140 people and was condemned by UN monitors.
Correspondence between the ministers shows that a month after the strike, Johnson, the foreign secretary, wrote: “I am aware you have deferred a decision on four export licence applications to supply the Royal Saudi Air Force with equipment which could be used in the conflict in Yemen.”
In the letter dated 8 November, Johnson advised the trade secretary it was right to proceed with the arms sales. “The issue is extremely finely balanced, but I judge at present that the Saudis appear committed both to improving processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents,” he said.
The foreign secretary added that the Saudis had given the UK commitments in the aftermath of the airstrike on the funeral in Sana’a that meant “the ‘clear risk’ threshold for refusal … has not yet been reached”.
Fox then recommended that the licences be approved in the light of the assessment provided by the foreign secretary, but in his reply dated 17 November added that the situation remained risky and that he “must insist” on regular updates on the situation in Yemen.
The trade secretary wrote to Johnson: “I agree that this is an extremely complex situation and that the issue of clear risk is extremely finely balanced. In the light of your assessment and [REDACTED] recent advice I accept that we should continue, for the present, to assess export licences for Saudi Arabia on a case-by-case basis.”
But he added: “In doing so I want to be very clear with you about the risks inherent in making this decision, not just because of the grave situation in Yemen.”
The letters were among documents disclosed in court proceedings this week, as the NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade faced the government in a judicial review of the decision to continue licensing arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite the kingdom’s widely criticised offensive in Yemen.
The 8 October airstrike on the funeral in the Yemeni capital was among the bloodiest incidents in a conflict that has cost the lives of at least 4,600 civilians, according to the UN.
A hall was bombed as a funeral was taking place, with hundreds present. Minutes later, as people tried to help the wounded, a second airstrike hit in a “double-tap”, leading to further deaths, including those of rescuers.
A UN report seen by Reuters found that 140 people were killed and hundreds more injured, and that the attack had breached international humanitarian law. The coalition acknowledged it had mistakenly targeted the funeral based on incorrect information.
SOURCE : The Guardian