Anti-weapons campaign group CAAT welcomes Biden decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

Anti-weapons campaign group CAAT welcomes Biden decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE
Biden had promised to freeze US-made weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
3 min read
28 January, 2021
The UK is a major weapons provider to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
A leading UK organisation working to abolish the arms trade has welcomed reports that the US State Department has paused a pending deal with Saudi Arabia and UAE and urged other governments to follow suit.

The US State Department has put on hold the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and a $23 billion package of cutting-edge F-35 jets to the UAE, due to their possible use in the Yemen war.

The F-35 shipment was reportedly promised by Donald Trump to the UAE when Abu Dhabi agreed to normalise relations with Israel in August.

"If Biden sticks to his word and ends the arms sales it could be a huge step towards ending the brutal bombardment and blockade [in Yemen]," said Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).  
"It would also set a vital precedent and could help to force action from the UK and the other arms dealing governments."

The armed conflict in Yemen has killed and injured thousands of civilians since Saudi Arabia and the UAE formed a military coalition against Houthi-led forces, who took over the capital Sanaa in September 2014.

Biden has repeatedly promised to end the sale of US-made weapons to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, who are largely held responsible for causing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

In 2019, Biden criticised former President Trump for issuing Saudi Arabia a "dangerous blank check".

"I would end US support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia," he said.


Read also: Biden Biden administration stops transfer of F-35 jets to UAE, makes overture to Iran

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that US-made arms have accounted for almost three-quarters of the volume of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia from 2015-2019.

Smith welcomed Biden's apparent move as an "encouraging sign", saying that the "the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen would not be possible without the arms sales and support of the White House".  

"We hope that this freeze will see these arms sales cancelled and ongoing licences revoked," he said.

While the US is by far the Saudi-led coalition's largest provider of arms, the UK is the second biggest seller.

Its legislation explicitly prohibits the sale of weapons when there is a "clear risk they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law".

CAAT last year launched a legal challenge against the UK government's decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Court of Appeal halted the issuing of arms licenses in June 2019 to the kingdom, on the grounds that the sale of weapons to Saudi-led forces should only proceed after a prior assessment on possible breaches of international humanitarian law.

In July 2020, new sales were greenlighted following a government review that labelled Saudi human rights violations "isolated incidents".

This conclusion is contradicted by a United Nations expert panel that found Saudi-led forces responsible for consistently breaching international human rights law.

The UN said that countries arming parties in the Yemen conflict could be "aiding and assisting" war crimes.

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