Human rights campaigners Amnesty International (AI) have written to UK Defense secretary Michael Fallon, calling for clarification over the government's response to evidence that Saudi forces recently deployed a cluster bomb in the town of al-Khadhra, in the Hajjah governorate of northern Yemen.
Citing video and photographic evidence, along with the opinions of munitions experts, AI claimed the cluster bomb — originally manufactured in the UK in the 1970s — had been deployed "within the last few months," with local testimonies placing the date of the explosion at approximately late December/early January.
London Rejects Findings
However, UK Minister for Defense Procurement Philip Dunne rejected the findings, telling parliament on May 24 that the BL-755 cluster bomb may have been used in an earlier conflict.
Dunne told the House of Commons:
"It is unclear from the evidence provided thus far that the munitions came from the current conflict," adding that "we assess that no UK-supplied cluster weapons have been used."
Last time UK produced cluster bombs for sale was 1989 says Def Min Philip Dunne. Now banned #Yemen— Jonathan Beale (@bealejonathan) May 24, 2016
Defense Minister Fallon said the UK was "aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in the current conflict in Yemen, as the Saudis have themselves publicly confirmed."
UK Gov't Response ‘Shocking'
Cluster weapons are now banned by the UK and more than 100 other countries, with accusations the alleged use of the British-made cluster munitions by Saudi forces, or the UK's failure to ensure they aren't being used, could leave London complicit in any breach of international law committed in the conflict.
Amnesty International UK's spokesperson Allan Hogarth said the UK government's response to the evidence was "shocking."
"It's shocking that the Saudi coalition has dropped a British cluster bomb on villagers in Yemen, and no less shocking that ministers are doing so little about it. Instead of immediately halting all sales of arms to a Saudi coalition that obviously cares little for civilian life in Yemen, ministers have hidden behind a smokescreen of wildly implausible claims."
"Ministers are behaving disgracefully and Yemeni villagers have been killed or maimed in the meantime.
"It's an absolute scandal and it all goes back to the fact that UK Government just won't stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other rich countries in the Gulf."