London’s High Court has rejected a bid for a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the war in Yemen. A pair of judges dismissed the case brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
CAAT accused the government of contributing to breaches of international law and the world’s largest humanitarian disaster in Yemen. The bombing of Yemen has killed thousands of people in recent years. However, the judges sided with the government. They concluded that there had been “continuing rationality” in a risk assessment performed by officials before restarting arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2020.
Defiant on arms sales
CAAT remained defiant after the ruling. Their spokesperson Emily Apple said:
While we are obviously disappointed with the verdict, we are particularly disappointed for the Yemeni people whose lives have been devastated by UK licensed bombs.
Apple also argued that the ruling is an effect of lax laws:
The court’s ruling, much of which was based on closed evidence that we were not allowed to hear, exposes the low threshold the government has to reach in order to sell weapons to regimes committing human rights violations.
Saudi Arabia has intervened militarily in Yemen since 2015, leading a regional coalition supporting pro-Yemeni government forces against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Since 2015, according to CAAT, the UK government has licensed sales of weaponry to Saudi Arabia – including combat aircraft, guided bombs, and missiles – with a published value of £7.9 billion.
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In fact, Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute wrote in 2018:
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) is entirely dependent on American and British support for its air fleet of F15 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and Tornado aircraft. If either Washington or London halts the flow of logistics, the RSAF will be grounded.
Focus on Yemen
The Yemen Data Project, as of 7 June 2023, has found that there have been 25,054 coalition air raids in Yemen. 10,243 people have been injured, while 8983 people have died. The human cost of today’s legal ruling will no doubt be devastating for people in Yemen.
Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana was involved in the case. Their lawyers from Global Legal Action Network stated:
Our clients, Mwatana, provided the government with first-hand evidence of airstrikes that killed scores of civilians. Instead of listening to them, the government went ahead and licensed yet more weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Late last year, Mwatana co-authored a report with Dutch peace organisation PAX. They looked at civilian harm from explosive weapons. This involved field research in Yemen and detailed incidents of harm to locals. They concluded:
This report documents ten incidents of harm resulting from attacks by the Saudi and United Arab Emirates led Coalition and the Ansar Allah armed group ( Houthis). In all the incidents explosive weapons were used in populated areas, most notably unguided shells and air-launched missiles
They also noted that:
The incidents demonstrate the urgent need for all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and better protect civilians, including by avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The neocolonialism of the arms trade
However, this latest ruling shows that international human rights guidelines and laws are no marker for morality or ethics. As the Canary reported last year:
One understanding of whether a country is at war might be a physical presence in an outside nation. That is an outdated and ineffective understanding. Modern warfare and the global market means that the UK is indeed at war, not just with Yemen, but also with other countries the UK is selling arms exports to.
The ruling from the high court judges, however correct it is legally, is terrible morally. Britain has chosen to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia knowing full well that those same weapons will be used to devastate people in Yemen.
As ever, colonialism simply adapts to modern politics and technology. Britain’s choice to continue to facilitate the bombing of Yemen is entirely in step with its aggressive, violent, and ever-colonial attitude towards the Global South.
Martin Butcher, a policy advisor for Oxfam, said:
Today’s judgment from the High Court is terrible news. More than four armed attacks on civilians were carried out daily during 14 months of the war in Yemen. British arms sales have fuelled a war that has left more than two thirds of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.
Britain has a moral responsibility to the people being injured and killed in Yemen. Characteristically for Britain, however, neither the law nor any other type of formal recourse is going to right this terrible wrong.
Instead, it’s up to organisations like CAAT, Mwatana, and ordinary people to step forward and resist this latest iteration of neocolonialism.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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