UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are back on trial
On Tuesday 31 January, London’s High Court will examine the legality of a UK government decision to renew selling arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the war in Yemen.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has brought the legal action. It’s accusing the government of contributing to breaches of international law and the world’s largest humanitarian disaster, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. While many have been killed by the conflict itself, hundreds of thousands of others have died from disease and hunger caused by Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Millions are living in extreme poverty, and a United Nations 2021 report stated that 1.3 million people would die by 2030.
The judicial review is expected to last until the end of the week. CAAT brought the legal challenge after Britain announced in summer 2020 that it was resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Profit over lives
Ahead of the hearing, CAAT’s media coordinator Emily Apple accused London of being a
government that cares more about profit than war crimes and the deaths of civilians.
CAAT initially won its case against the government in 2019, when the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK’s licensing of arms sales was unlawful. The court said the government had failed to assess properly whether the arms sales violated its human rights commitments and ordered it to “reconsider the matter”.
While serving as international trade minister, Liz Truss then conducted a review and announced in 2020 that export licences would restart. She insisted Riyadh “has a genuine intent” to comply with international humanitarian law, despite “isolated incidents”.
CAAT accused Truss of “paying lip service” to the need to review sales. It condemned Truss’s reference to “isolated incidents”, saying it was:
total nonsense and deeply offensive to all the Yemeni people who’ve had their lives destroyed by UK weapons.
Licensing billions of pounds worth of weapons
The UK is one of the world’s leading arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia. CAAT argued:
The UK has supplied billions of pounds worth of fighter jets, bombs and missiles to the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen. At least 8,983 civilians have been killed in attacks by the coalition, which has targeted homes and farms, schools and hospitals, weddings and funerals.
There is plentiful evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has broken humanitarian law. CAAT argues that UK rules ban arms sales:
where there is a “clear risk” that a weapon “might” be used in a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law.
CAAT estimates that the UK has supplied arms worth over £23 billion to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen began.
Weapons manufacturing is a massive industry in the UK. Britain is the world’s second largest arms exporter in the world, behind the US. The sector had a turnover of £25.3 billion in 2020.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Fahd Sadi / Wikimedia Commons, resized to 770 x 403
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