Saudi Arabia Admits Using Banned British-Made Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Theresa May Saudi king
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia (L) in Manama, Bahrain on December 6. The Saudi-led coalition has admitted using British-made cluster bombs in its airstrike campaign in Yemen. Stefan Rousseau/Pool/Reuters

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it has used British-made cluster bombs, which are widely condemned as causing unnecessary civilian casualties, in its bombing campaign on Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

Amnesty International had accused a Saudi-led coalition in May of using U.K.-manufactured BL-755 cluster bombs when bombing a village in northern Yemen. The BL-755 contains 147 smaller bomblets, which scatter upon impact and can have a delayed detonation, posing a particular risk to civilians who may pick up the bomblets.

Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of mainly Arab countries bombing the Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015. The Houthis, who are backed by Iran, launched an insurgency against the Yemeni government and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile in March 2015.

In a statement reported by Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Ahmed Asiri, confirmed that there had been "limited use by the coalition" of BL-755 bombs. "This munition was used against legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages against continuous attacks by Houthi militia, which resulted in Saudi civilian casualties," said Asiri.

The use of cluster munitions is banned by an international convention signed in 2008. The U.K. and 99 other states have signed and ratified the convention, but neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States—which, along with the U.K., is supporting the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen—has signed up.

Asiri confirmed that Saudi Arabia had decided to cease using the cluster bombs and had informed the U.K. government of its decision. British defense minister Michael Fallon told the House of Commons on Monday that a limited number of BL-755 bombs had been used by the Saudi-led coalition and welcomed the decision to stop using them, The Guardian reported.

Responding to Fallon's comments, Amnesty International U.K. Director Kate Allen called for a total suspension of all British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. The Islamic kingdom is one of the biggest buyers of British arms.

"This is a very simple issue. If the Saudi-led coalition can use British-made cluster munitions against Yemeni villages, then we shouldn't be surprised that it can also bomb homes, hospitals, schools and factories in Yemen," said Allen.