Medics call for an end to arms sales to Saudi

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UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been directly involved in the destruction of Yemen’s health system and the targeting of hospitals and other health facilities in Yemen.

On Wednesday 21 September, the Medact Arms and Militarisation group handed in the following letter calling for an embargo on these arms sales to Liam Fox,  Secretary of State for International Trade, who is responsible for licensing arms sales. Liam Fox himself studied medicine and worked as a GP, and we appeal to him to think of the health of Yemeni people, the brutal attacks on his medical colleagues in Yemen and his duty to ‘first do no harm.’

This joint letter was followed up by a personal plea from co-coordinator of the Arms and Militarisation group, and trainee GP, Sarah Alhulail.

#healthpeace #stoparmingsaudi

Dear Dr Liam Fox,

It is now eighteen months since the recent outbreak of armed conflict in Yemen began, forcing 2.4 million people to flee their homes, and leaving over 22 million people in need of humanitarian support. The conflict has killed over six thousand people, and left the health care system on its knees.

Humanitarian agencies are struggling to respond and the country stands on the brink of famine. A senior representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has described the current level of humanitarian assistance in Yemen as a “drop in the ocean.”

The underlying causes of the conflict between the Huthis and the current regime in power are complex, with the latter being supported by a coalition of other states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States. Both sides in this conflict stand accused of serious violations of international law, including war crimes, with particular condemnation of the aerial bombing campaign that is targeted at Huthi-controlled areas.

Accusations of war crimes levelled at the Saudi led coalition in particular have included attacks on three Médecins Sans Frontières facilities which resulted in the death of both patients and healthcare workers.

As health professionals, we have a duty to speak out against all causes of ill health in Yemen. This must include the sale and export of UK weaponry that is fuelling the conflict.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, the UK approved sales of around £3.3 billion worth of combat aircraft and bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force. A recent legal opinion by Matrix Chambers concluded that the UK Government is in breach of its obligations arising under the Consolidated Criteria on Arms Exports, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the Arms Trade Treaty by authorizing transfers of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.

We join human rights organisations, the European Parliament, the Dutch parliament, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in calling for an immediate end to UK arms transfers to all sides in this conflict. We also echo the advice of the Chair of the International Development Committee, Stephen Twigg MP, that the UK Government should retract its opposition to calls for an independent international inquiry into the alleged abuses of international humanitarian law during the conflict.

Co-authored by Dr David McCoy, Dr Sarah Alhulail, Ben Clavey and Chris Venables.


Dr David McCoy: Director, Medact, Director of Global Health Teaching, Queen Mary University London
Dr Frank Boulton: Medact Trustee, Visiting Lecturer, Southampton University
Dr Sridhar Venkatapurum: Lecturer in Global Health and Philosophy Kings College London, Trustee, Medact
Sir Iain Chalmers: Patron, Medact
Dr Jacky Davis: BMA National Council
David Nott OBE: Consultant Surgeon, London
Dr Johann Malawana: Junior Doctor
Dr Louise Irvine: BMA National Council, GP, London
Dr Jackie Applebee: GP Tower Hamlets
Dr Iain Maclennan: GP & Consultant in Public Health (retired)
Dr Richard Horton: Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet
Dr Sharif Ismail: Academic Clinical Fellow in Public Health, Imperial College London
Professor John Middleton: Professor of the UK Faculty of Public Health

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