On 20 June 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful
The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licenses without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place. The UK is one of the leading sellers of arms to Saudi Arabia and RAF personnel are present as well.
As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law. It has stopped issuing new arms exports licenses to Saudi and its coalition partners, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.
This is a great verdict achieved by concerted action by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. These weapons sales should never have been licensed in the first place. The government repeatedly claims to exercise strict controls but the reality seems to be anything goes.
Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria. Parliament’s International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, October 2016
Despite this decision and the considerable public outcry, the government is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. They are probably encouraged by the appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister. A recent FoI request showed that in August 2016, Johnson signed off on the transfer of bombs only two days after Saudi forces had destroyed a food factory killing 14 people. The following day, the Saudi Air Force bombed a school killing 10 children. Two months later, Saudi forces bombed a funeral killing 140 people. In the weeks that followed, Johnson signed another arms transfer for bombs. Despite this, the government insists it has one of the most robust arms controls regimes in the world. These rules say that sales should not be allowed when there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or where they would provoke or prolong armed conflicts.
People and children
Underneath the bombs are people and children. The effects on them and the country generally have been catastrophic. Warning: the following quote is upsetting –
I saw tragedy. The men who were filling the place with happiness and dance were in scattered pieces of charred flesh. The blood was everywhere. Fingers and intestines were in all directions… Body parts were on trees and rocks and people tried to collect as many of them as possible and the remaining body parts were eaten by dogs.
Amina Al-Shahb Survivor of attack on son’s wedding in Hajjah Governorate April 2018
The countries supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others involved in the conflict have plenty of arms trade regulations in place. In fact, they claim to apply the highest standards. It is, however, a well-determined policy of these countries to continue supplying and supporting a few ultra-rich oil states that help maintain the profitable and dominant position of western arms manufacturers. Western states have made a clear choice to support undemocratic regimes in a war that has denied the people of Yemen the most basic human rights. (Mwatana is an independent Yemeni organization involved in defending human rights)
The data on the death toll in Yemen is collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, Acled. The following graph shows the rising toll of killing;
If you go to their site you can find a range of statistics to describe the effects of the conflict.
Over 90,000 people have now been killed. Many more thousands have been injured. The country is in pieces and there is cholera. Yet we continue as a nation to continue supplying weapons and personnel to perpetuate the conflict. We have strict rules it is claimed but despite the appalling results, the rules don’t seem to be applied.
Sources: CAAT; ACLED; Guardian; Washington Post; Mwatana