Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, has called for a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and a ceasefire in Yemen.
Since the start of war in Yemen, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth $4.1bn, according to London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Corbyn said: “We have constantly condemned the use of these weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and called for the suspension of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia to show that we are wanting a peace process in Yemen, not an invasion by Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve made that very clear.”
Yemen has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally recognised government, led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a Houthi rebel movement.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthi rebels it believes to be backed by regional rival Iran, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Sunni Arab states launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 injured in Yemen since March 20, mostly from Saudi-led air strikes, according to the United Nations.
The Saudi-led air campaign and subsequent blockade has created a humanitarian disaster in the Arab world’s poorest country. Cholera is on the rise and nearly 70 precent of the population is dependent on aid.
“I’m totally shocked by the war in Yemen. Totally shocked, by the bombardment that’s taken place, by the killings that have happened, by the cholera outbreak that’s now rife. And the numbers who are affected, the numbers who have already died,” Corbyn said.
More than 1,300 people have died of cholera since late April, in the second outbreak of the infection in less than a year.
In March, the UN’s World Food Programme said that nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces were on the verge of famine.
Corbyn said the Labour party had called on the previous British government to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and would continue to do so in the next.
“We have already put that resolution to parliament in the last parliament. We’ll continue to do that when there’s a new parliament formed after this general election. Our policy of the Labour Party is unchanged,” he said.
The Labour leader also touched on alleged instances, revealed in two separate investigations last week, of forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and abuse by troops backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Yemen.
“All of those allegations have to be investigated, and the evidence has to come forward,” said Corbyn.
“And arms sales policy has to reflect that we do not believe those countries that commit abuses of human rights or kill civilians with the use of those weapons should continue to receive British arms.”
Last week rights groups and activists called on the UK to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies, warning that continuing to do so may be a violation of international law.
A statement issued by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR) said British manufactured weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were being used to carry out abuses in Yemen and Libya.
“[AOHR] is calling on the UK government to review its role in the sale of arms to a number of Arab governments that are known for gross human rights violation,” the statement read.
“A Saudi-led coalition has killed hundreds of Yemenis, destroyed scores of homes in addition to obliterating most of Yemen’s core infrastructure,” the AOHR said, adding: “Saudi Arabia has also turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by UAE in southern parts of the country.”
In Libya, the UAE has transferred British-produced arms to the renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is also accused of a raft of abuses, including indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and summary executions.