The leader of the U.K.’s largest opposition party has called on the government to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and has accused it of ignoring alleged war crimes committed in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.
During a rowdy session of the weekly prime minister’s question time, Jeremy Corbyn welcomed last week’s judgement of the court of appeal that declared British arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful and queried Prime Minister Theresa May on why the government has failed to investigate whether its weapons were used in the bombing of innocent civilians.
“The UN describes the situation in Yemen as, and I quote, ‘humanity’s biggest preventable disaster’ and the government sees fit to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia during that situation” Corbyn said and asked: “Does she believe there are serious ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen?”
In her response, May said that the government will seek to appeal last week’s judgement and that the latter was not about whether the government was making the right or wrong decisions but about the decision making process and its rationality, reminding the House of Commons that the Saudi-led intervention was launched at the request of the internationally-backed government of Yemen.
Yemen fell into civil war in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive air campaign aiming to roll back Houthi gains in the impoverished country.
The ongoing violence has devastated Yemen’s basic infrastructure, prompting the UN to describe the situation as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times”.
An estimated 8.4 million people are at risk of severe famine and more than 22 million people, 75 percent of Yemen’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Corbyn also brought to attention the statement of UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard in which she said she found “credible evidence” to further probe Saudi officials’ individual liability in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
May said that she would like to see accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and that she raised this issue with Saudi king Salman twice as well as with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman at the G20 Summit last year.
The prime minister said that the government expects Saudi Arabia to take necessary steps to ensure that such actions do not happen again and that it will follow due process in bringing to justice the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s death.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 last year.
Riyadh offered various, conflicting narratives to explain his disappearance before acknowledging he was murdered in the diplomatic building while seeking to shift blame for his death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.
Khashoggi's body has not been recovered, and the Kingdom has remained silent on its whereabouts.
By Muhammad Mussa in London