Posts Tagged ‘CAAT’


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

 

 

 

 


The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has finally managed to get the problem of our massive sale of arms to the Saudi regime into court – a process which has taken a considerable degree of legal wrangling.

At issue is our arms sales, put at £3.3bn to the Saudis, and the use of these weapons to bomb a wide range of civilian targets in Yemen.  This has caused untold distress with thousands killed and injured, and there are distressing scenes of malnutrition and dying children.  The Saudis have bombed schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, sometimes returning to bomb the rescue workers causing further mayhem.  An estimated 6,000 have been killed.

They have also been shown to use cluster weapons which have been banned.

In today’s hearings correspondence was revealed from the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson in which he says:

The issue is extremely finely balanced, but I judge at present the Saudis appear committed both to improve processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents.

Picture: MSF

We will of course have to see what the judges decide in this case but in the debate in the House of Commons, one of the key matters discussed was what was described as ‘glacial’ progress by the Saudi government.  Although there are disagreements about the number of incidents, they number around 100 and yet the number investigations have been eight.  A wide range of agencies have criticised the government and the Saudis for the raids including Oxfam, Amnesty, WWF and MSF.

It seems clear that the arms sales tail is wagging the ministerial dog.  It is a real stretch to say ‘the issue is finely balanced.’  If we did not have so much tied up in these arms sales with money, jobs and local economies in the UK dependent on them, it is doubtful we would continue with such clear breaches of international humanitarian law.

We shall no doubt be returning to this topic in due course.


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Running with the hare, hunting with the hounds

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has recently shared with the Observer some research it has done into the record level of arms sales to countries with dubious human rights records (Britain sells record £3bn of weapons in a year to regimes that violate human rights, 29 May 2016).  We have over recent months posted several blogs concerning these arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and also the involvement of British Service personnel in the bombing of civilians in Yemen.

We have also highlighted the government’s steady watering down of its human rights policies to enable more arms sales to take place.  The CAAT’s statistics show that more than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 ‘human rights priority countries’ that is countries where the worst of the human rights violations take place.

Countries such as Saudi and Bahrain are familiar to us but less attention has been paid to the Maldives which does have a Salisbury connection.  The first elected leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheen (pictured) – who went to school in the city – has been sentenced to 13 years in prison allegedly for terrorist offences.  Amnesty has said the sentence was ‘politically motivated’.  It released a report in February which said that the government had been:

effectively undermining human rights protection by failing to strengthen the independent institutions of the state.

A local NGO, Transparency Maldives, issued a statement expressing concern about ‘irregularities’ in the legal process.

The MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen has also been busy making speeches, writing in the Salisbury Journal and on his blog about the situation there.  He says that Nasheed’s sentence was ‘illegal’ (Time to promote freedom in the Maldives, 17 May 2016).  He goes on to say:

Last year, Nasheed was put on trial on politically-motivated and completely false charges of “terrorism”, found guilty and sentenced for 13 years.  In the course of his trial Nasheed was prohibited from presenting any evidence or calling witnesses, with the court pre-emptively concluding that no testimony could refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution.

Another 1,700 people face criminal charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared.  Attacks on the Maldives’ independent press have intensified in recent weeks to the extent that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, has been prohibited by court order from publishing its daily print edition.

He concludes his blog by arguing that pressure should be applied to the Maldivian government:

Pressure must be increasingly and continually applied to compel the Maldives Government to release its political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. I hope that CMAG [Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] will be able to greatly improve the situation but if not we should not be afraid to countenance targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on the leadership of the Maldivian Government.

All this is commendable and it is good to see an MP arguing forcefully for human rights in a place such as the Maldives.  The problem however is the arms sales.  As the Observer article makes clear, quoting Andrew Smith of CAAT ‘These arms sales are going to countries that even the Foreign Office accepts are run by some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.’

So while we may praise Mr Glen for raising this matter in Parliament and in the Journal and on his blog, the fact remains that the department granting these licenses is the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in which Mr Glen is the PPS to the Minister.  The Ministry simply says that the department

The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export controls regimes in the world.

Some may argue that Mr Glen’s position is inconsistent:  making speeches about human rights violations in the Maldives while working for a department which is busy allowing the sale of arms to them.  Others may choose to use a harsher word.

 

 


A back bench committee is to probe arms sales to Yemen

Readers of this blog, other human rights sites as well the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, will be familiar with the story of Yemen.  There is a war going on there and civilians are being killed.  Médécins sans Frontières facilities are being bombed.  The UK is busy supplying the Saudis with arms and British military personnel are present in the command centre.  £2.8bn of weapons have been supplied since the war began.

At long last the cross party committee on arms exports controls is to look into the matter.  We await their report with interest.

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British military advisors involved in bombing in Yemen

yemen bombing

News has emerged over the past few days that British and American advisors and service personnel have been involved in advising the Saudi Arabians in their attacks on Yemen.  Our involvement might not have come to light had it not been for the Saudis themselves and a briefing by their foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir.  The Minister of Defence, Michael Fallon, issued a statement to the House of Commons on 17 December which simply referred to 94 personnel embedded with ‘Coalition HQ’s’ without being at all specific about what that meant.  It now appears our people are actively involved in targeting strikes.  MoD say that our personnel are “not directly involved in Saudi-led Coalition operations” but the Saudi briefing confirms that we are in the command centre.

The problem is that a range of non-military targets are being hit including schools and medical facilities.  A total of around 3,000 have been killed since hostilities began.  Médécins san Frontières have reported missile hits on one of their medical facilities although they are uncertain of the origin of the weapons concerned.

Campaign Against the Arms Trade are stepping up their legal campaign and have issued a ‘letter before action’ for judicial review, challenging decisions to continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia despite increasing evidence that they are violating international humanitarian law.  (11 January 2016)

Amnesty have pointed out that provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty – which the UK is party to – prohibit us from exporting arms transfers if they have knowledge that the arms would be used to commit attacks against civilians, civilian objects or other violations of international humanitarian law.  It said there was “a pattern of appalling disregard for civilian lives displayed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition”.  There is also a risk of famine because of the blockade on Yemeni ports.

That our government and service personnel are somehow involved in this is shocking.

Sources: Daily Telegraph; Daily Mail; the Guardian; CAAT; Reprieve; Amnesty International

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The new South Wilts University Technical College in Salisbury is to be part-funded by arms companies and a number of people are concerned that young people will be corrupted by such firms.  The Salisbury group has campaigned in the past on the issue of arms as Salisbury is surprisingly rich in arms companies.  It is likely that because we are near to Salisbury Plain – where a number of regiments are based – and the garrison towns of Bulford and Tidworth, it is attractive to such firms to set up here.  We are also near Porton Down and to Boscombe Down.

Some years ago, we discovered that a firm based in Salisbury was supplying the Indonesians with armoured land rovers being used in the oppression of the East Timorese.  Chemring, which has a factory at a place called High Post near Salisbury, was also the subject of press interest recently for allegedly supplying CS gas to the Hong Kong police to help suppress demonstrations, and to Israel.  Chemring supplied CS gas which was used in Egypt.

So the activities of arms companies are a matter of interest to us.  It has to be said straight away that, unless you are a complete pacifist, there are aspects of the arms trade which are perfectly legitimate.  We need to defend ourselves and therefore have a need to make armaments.  We can also sell such arms to countries we trust or to whom we are allied.  The difficulty is when arms are supplied to regimes who have little interest in human rights.  This is why Amnesty among others has been promoting an arms trade treaty.  Another problem is the shadowy world of dealers and brokers who go on to supply anyone willing to pay.

Anyone interested in the arms trade, then a book to read is The Shadow World: inside the global arms trade by Andrew Feinstein (Hamish Hamilton, 2011).  This remorselessly describes the trade and the high degree of corruption involved in its activities.  The industry is over £1tn in size and money flows via tax havens and brokers around the world.

Look at almost any news broadcast and it doesn’t matter who is fighting whom, what is noticeable is that they all seem to be remarkably well armed.  The various belligerents drive around in military vehicles, and they seem to be guns and rocket launchers aplenty.  These arms don’t appear out of nowhere, they are supplied by the shadowy world of the arms dealer and are financed via various tax havens, many of which are Crown dependencies.

Feinstein expresses it well in his introduction:

In our twenty-first-century world the lethal combination of technological advances, terrorism, global crime, state sponsored violence and socio-economic inequality has raised instability and insecurity to alarming levels.  At the same time, the engine that has driven this escalation, the global arms trade, grows ever more sophisticated, complex and toxic in its effects.

It might therefore be thought essential that the world’s democratic nations should address this trade effectively and urgently.  If it must exist, then surely it should be coherently regulated, legitimately financed, effectively policed and transparent in its workings, and meet people’s need for safety and security?

Instead the trade in weapons is a parallel world of money, corruption, deceit and death.  It operates to its own rules, largely unscrutinized, bringing enormous benefits to the chosen few, and suffering and immiseration to millions.  The trade corrodes our democracies, weakens already fragile states and often undermines the very national security it porports to strengthen.  (p xxii, ibid)

Arms sales are promoted by the British government by the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO).  There has been a lot of publicity recently as various ministers – including the Prime Minister – visiting the Gulf states to sign arms deals.  Some of these countries arrest or harass oppositions, use torture regularly, execute people in public, mistreat their women and have corrupt judicial systems.  No matter it seems, there’s trade to be had.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT held a meeting in Salisbury recently to publicise the financing of this college by four arms firms.  The firms involved include Chemring, QinetiQ, Esterline and Dstl.  Serco is also involved which has a dubious record.

Some of the questions to ask of this college are: will their young people be free to discuss the activities of this trade?  If it transpires that munitions supplied by one of these firms are used to suppress demonstrations or are used to kill unarmed people for example, will students be free to debate this?  Will the effects and practices of the arms trade be a topic of discussion in Citizenship activities?  Interesting questions …  CAAT allege that the firms will use the college as a means to promote their image.  It will be interesting to see how this UTC deals with the ethical and moral issues of the arms trade and adopts an appropriately impartial position when and if allegations of wrongdoing emerge.

The college is part of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and none of its trustees has any local links.

Article in Salisbury JournalCAAT item discussing the college is here.

UPDATE

CAAT Newsletter item (p6)