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Boris Johnson rejects calls to back inquiry over 'Saudi human rights breaches'

Published 22/09/2016

Boris Johnson dismissed calls for a UN inquiry
Boris Johnson dismissed calls for a UN inquiry

Boris Johnson has rejected calls for him to back an international inquiry into allegations Saudi Arabia has breached humanitarian laws in the war in Yemen.

The Government has faced mounting criticism for continuing to sell billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia despite claims the regime has breached international humanitarian law during its military campaign.

And two senior MPs have written to the Foreign Secretary urging him to use UN proceedings to push for an inquiry into the allegations.

Stephen Twigg, chairman of the International Development Committee, and Chris White, chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls' inquiry into the use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen, urged Mr Johnson to " seize this opportunity" and support the establishment of a UN inquiry.

But speaking to Channel 4 News from New York, where he is at the UN, Mr Johnson rejected the pleas.

He said: "I don't happen to think that is the way forward.

"I'm not going to hide my concern about this, because I am concerned about it, but as things stand at the moment we don't think there are breaches of international humanitarian law.

"In fact I think it's a great mistake to try and draw some equivalence between what is happening in Yemen and what is happening in Syria. The two things are really very different."

He said the Government is "deeply concerned" at a recent airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition which killed at least 19 civilians, including children.

But Mr Johnson dismissed calls for a UN inquiry, insisting that instead the Government is " using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details" about the allegations.

A parliamentary report published last week said it had been presented with evidence of "clear violations" of international humanitarian law, including an airstrike on a wedding party which killed 47 civilians and injured 58 more.

The joint report by the House of Commons Business and International Development Committees said all sales of UK weapons which could be used in Saudi Arabia's military action in Yemen should be halted until the completion of an independent inquiry into the allegations.

But the publication exposed deep differences between MPs on the issue, as the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released its own rival report, insisting that exports should be blocked only if the UK courts rule the weapons sales unlawful.

There have been claims that UK-made armaments are being used in indiscriminate bombing raids on civilian targets by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shia rebels known as the Houthis in Yemen.

International medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has accused the coalition of war crimes for an air strike on its hospital which killed at least 11 last month.

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