Watchdogs call to suspend selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch calls US, Britain and France to halt selling arms to Saudi Arabia after violence in Yemen which killed many civilians

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

People ride on a motorbike past a building destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz March 14, 2016.

Leading human rights groups urge several countries to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia after the country was accused of killing hundreds of civilians in its air campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the United States, Britain and France to stop weapon deliveries to Riyadh.

The United Nations Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said last week that at least 3,200 civilians had been killed in 2015, in which the majority of those deaths were caused by the Saudi-led coalition campaign.

London-based Amnesty called on Washington and London to "halt all transfers of arms for use in the Yemen conflict."

"Saudi Arabia's international partners have added fuel to the fire, flooding the region with arms despite the mounting evidence that such weaponry has facilitated appalling crimes," James Lynch, Amnesty’s regional deputy director, said in a statement.

New York-based HRW's deputy global advocacy director, Philippe Bolopion, said in a statement that "For the past year, governments that arm Saudi Arabia have rejected or downplayed compelling evidence that the coalition's air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians."

"By continuing to sell weapons to a known violator that has done little to curtail its abuses, the US, UK and France risk being complicit in unlawful civilian deaths," he added.

A Houthi militant carries his weapon during the funerals of Lutf al Quhum, a prominent pro-Houthi religious singer, and a Houthi fighter in Yemen's capital Sanaa, in this picture taken February 18, 2016. (Reuters)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-largest arms importer, US and Britain being its main suppliers.

Riyadh launched a coalition air campaign in Yemen by invitation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi last year in March after Iran-allied Houthi rebels seized control of large parts of the country, including capital Sanaa and forced the government into exile.

Last week, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest expressed concerns about the conflict saying it “has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire.”

A strike earlier this month on a market in northern Yemen that killed 119 people, including 106 civilians, has amplified concerns.

Rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of carrying out indiscriminate bombings, including through the use of cluster bombs.

Amnesty said it had documented at least 32 air strikes by the coalition "that appear to have violated international humanitarian law" and killed 361 civilians.

HRW said it had documented at least 36 "unlawful air strikes" that killed at least 550 civilians, including on schools, hospitals and homes "with no evidence they were being used for military purposes".

"How many more air strikes need to wreak havoc on civilians before countries supplying aircraft and bombs to the coalition pull the plug?" said Bolopion.

TRTWorld and agencies