The European Union is under mounting pressure from members of the European Parliament [MEPs] to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the Gulf state's bombing campaign in Yemen.
Leaders of four political groups in the European parliament urged the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to propose an EU arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, because of the devastating war in Yemen that has left nearly 20 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
In a letter to Mogherini, seen by the Guardian, the MEP leaders accuse the EU of flouting its own rules, by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia in defiance of a 2008 common code on military exports. Mogherini has the right to propose an arms embargo, but would need to win the backing of EU member states, including the UK, one of the biggest arms exporters to the Gulf kingdom.
The latest call for a ban would run into immediate opposition from the British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, who urged MPs on Wednesday not to criticize Saudi Arabia in the interests of a fighter jet deal.
The EU code on arms exports lists eight grounds for turning down an arms export license, including respect for the obligations of international organizations, such as the UN. In particular EU member states must show "special caution and vigilance" when issuing licenses to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the UN or other bodies.
The UN described Yemen as the world's largest humanitarian crisis: in September it agreed to send war crimes investigators to the devastated country to examine human-rights violations committed there.
Bodil Valero, Swedish Green party MEP, said the EU could not continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia when faced with "the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world".
"We have our common European values, we have a common position [on arms sales], we shouldn't sell arms to a country that doesn't respect humanitarian law or human rights," said Valero, who drafts the parliament's annual arms control resolution.
"I think it is clear we are breaking the common position, at least when it comes to new products, new licenses," said Valero. "We should say no to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia because the common position wouldn't allow it."
France, followed by the UK, issued the most valuable arms-export licenses to Saudi Arabia in 2015, according to the latest EU arms export report, which shows that 17 EU member states sold arms to the Gulf state.
The UK issued licenses to Saudi Arabia worth €3.3bn [£2.9bn], but did not reveal the value of weapons shipped to the country that year. France issued licenses worth €16.9bn, but the value of shipments was €899m.
EU member states refused seven arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, but the report does not name the country or countries that did so, or why.
The parliament passed a symbolic resolution in favor of an arms embargo in February 2016, but member states, which hold the levers of EU foreign policy, have so far ignored calls for action.
The UK will no longer be bound by the EU's arms export code after Brexit, but could align itself with the bloc. Norway, Canada and Albania are among eight non-EU countries that have chosen to sign-up to EU arms export policy.
Source: The Guardian, Edited by website team