Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen
It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements. On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK. Their assets would be frozen as well. The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world. City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected. Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support. In his statement he said:
He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.
The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first. These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags. Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)
All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.
THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi. The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen. The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths. Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.
The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced. Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made. It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.
Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:
(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.
We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.
This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses. It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents
The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised. Kate Allen of Amnesty said:
This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales. How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension. This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law. The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.
Deeply cynical move – AIUK
Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:
This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.
The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places. The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?
This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.
Criterion 2c. Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Picture credit: Pink News
We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.