The UK has resumed arms sales to the Saudi regime
In 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government had acted unlawfully by licensing weapons to the Saudi armed forces for use in the Yemen conflict without assessing whether incidents had occurred in breach of International Human Rights law. Our weapons – along with those supplied by other countries principally the USA – have cause immense damage and suffering to the people of Yemen. The UN has estimated around 7,700 dead since beginning of the conflict in 2015. To that must be added the thousands of injured and the destruction of major parts of the country. The effects on the civilian population have been devastating.
Hospitals, schools, market places, residential areas, agricultural areas and production facilities have all been bombed using our planes and weapons. Although mistakes do happen in war and the wrong thing is bombed, the extent of these ‘mistakes’ leads one to assume that there is a deliberate attempt to bomb civilian targets. We must also note that UK personnel – including people from the RAF – are involved in advising the Saudis so something is going seriously wrong.
The British government maintains – against all the evidence – that there is no risk of IHL violations. In a Commons statement on 7 July justifying setting aside the Court’s judgement, the minister, Liz Truss MP said:
[…] I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL. (House of Commons written statement 7 July 2020)
It is worth reading the key passage in this statement which purports to give a justification for this decision:
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.
This reasoning is tenuous in the extreme. Because violations ‘occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons’ the minister concluded that they are ‘isolated incidents’. Surely a key factor is the frequency of these incidents especially if your argument is based on the numbers? The sheer number of civilian targets is way beyond what anyone could describe as ‘isolated’. The Oxford dictionary describes isolated to mean ‘untypical, unique’: these bombings are neither untypical nor unique. Another curious aspect of this statement is the phrase ‘for different reasons’ implying knowledge of what the purpose of the raid was yet the statement is full of uncertainties and the difficulty of assessing the incidents.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty international said:
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. (New York Times, 7 July 2020)
It is small wonder that human rights organisations have reacted with horror at the decision and the speed with which the minister set about reinstating arms shipments to Saudi. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade described the decision as ‘rank hypocrisy’.
The government is determined to sell arms to the Saudi and seems genuinely unconcerned at the fate of those on the receiving end. Liz Truss’s argument about isolated incidents is almost insulting. So great is the scale of the business that stopping it or seriously scaling it back is economically impossible. Truly it is the tail which wags the dog.
Sources: BBC, CAAT; New York Times; Human Rights Watch; Independent; The Guardian