The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law. The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.
We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country. These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate. 10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis. CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.
Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:
The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.
It further concluded:
Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern. There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.
A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.
If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.
An Amnesty International spokesman said:
The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes. This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations. James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)
It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision. True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know. But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts. And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country. A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.
Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far. They are the tail that wags the dog.
Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country. We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.
Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN