By Tim McNulty
THE coronavirus crisis has not seen a halt to UK military aid to Saudi Arabia despite the country’s ongoing bombardment of Yemen.
Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen – labelled by the UN as the worst in the world – COVID-19 spreads amid unabated clashes.
The virus was confirmed in Yemen on 10 April, despite this, and despite the announcement of a ceasefire by Saudi-led forces, the airstrikes have continued.
It comes as parliamentary questions revealed arms manufacturer BAE Systems and the RAF are still supplying military hardware to the Gulf state.
Speaking in Parliament, Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “These BAE Systems operated flights provide logistics support for UK-supplied aircraft and systems operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force, which play a key role in the defence and security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“These flights night-stop at RAF Akrotiri, both inbound and outbound from Saudi Arabia, for the wellbeing of the crew, to refuel and to assure the security of the aircraft and its cargo. “
The Minister continued: “These flights do not carry passengers, nor is cargo loaded or off-loaded at RAF Akrotiri. During the present Covid-19 crisis the crews are provided with dedicated on-base accommodation, which allows them to be isolated fully from RAF Akrotiri personnel.”
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In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s licensing of Saudi arms sales destined for Yemen had been unlawful, as no assessments had been made concerning breaches of international humanitarian law.
This saw a ban preventing the Government from approving any new licences though the flow of arms under existing licences was unaffected.
In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government has admitted multiple breaches of the ban on new licences.
Campaign Against Arms Trade has condemned the role of UK arms company, BAE Systems, and the RAF, in continuing to transfer and maintain military equipment to Saudi Arabian forces throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “UK-made fighter jets have played a key role in the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen. The war has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and, especially at this time, further military support for Saudi forces can only make it even worse.”
Smith added: “Despite the terrible humanitarian crisis and the outbreak of COVID-19, the war is still raging. There must be a meaningful ceasefire from all sides. The suffering of Yemeni people will be made far worse by the airstrikes that Saudi fighter jets are being used for.
“We are in unprecedented times, and this should not be happening. Fighter jet maintenance is not essential work, whether it is for the UK or any of the human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships that BAE sells its arms to. Our common security is not advanced by these arms sales or the wars they may be used in.”
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime.
This total includes £2.7 billion worth of combat vehicles, aircrafts, helicopters and drones as well as £2.5 billion worth of armaments covering grenades, bombs and missiles.
Campaigners claim in reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.
BAE Systems has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.
Redaction has approached the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for comment.
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