A Useful Example of a ‘State Crime’ – The British Government’s Illegal Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The British government has been accused of breaking international law by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

A recent report by the International Relations Committee (made up of members of the House of Lords) has concluded that it’s highly likely that British Weapons are the cause of significant civilian casualties’ in Yemen, where Saudi-backed forces are fighting Houthi rebels.

A few stats on the Saudi-Yemen conflict and Britain’s role in it…

  • Britain has sold £4.5 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015.
  • Independent experts have estimated that around 150 civilians died every month in autumn 2018 as a result of Saudi airstrikes.
  • 85 000 children have died of famine or disease since the conflict began, and a further 14 million people are at risk of famine.

The report concluded that the UK government is just on the wrong side of international humanitarian law, because on balance of evidence it believes that the Saudis are using British weapons to kill civilians.

The report recommends that the UK government should be making independent checks to see if UK- arms are being used illegally by the Saudis, instead relying on ‘inadequate’ investigations by the Saudis themselves.

Germany and Norway have already banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, based on their own independent assessments of the Saudi’s killing of civilians in Yemen.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a contemporary example of a state crime – the UK government selling arms to a country which then uses them to kill non-combatant civilians, which is in breach of international humanitarian law.

It’s also a good example of how ‘money trumps human rights’, or at least how it trumps the human rights of the 100s of civilians being killed each month in Yemen. £1 billion a year in arms sales is a LOT of money, it represents a lot of UK jobs, and a lot of tax revenue for the UK government.

It’s also a good example of selection-bias on the part of the UK government – they choose not to listen to certain independent reports of Saudi Arabia’s illegal use of UK weapons, because then it makes it possible to carry on profiting from selling them arms.

It’s also worth pointing out how agenda setting in the media works to keep the Yemen tragedy out of the news – this is largely a conflict which is hidden from view. To give you some idea of how long this has been going on for, Dianne Abbot pointed the illegality of the conflict back in 2016!

Finally, it’s evidence of the continued importance of nation states in our globalised world… Saudi Arabia depends on the UK government to legitimise its war in Yemen.

 

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