Court rejects bid to stop UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite Yemen atrocities

Court rejects bid to stop UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite Yemen atrocities
A court has ruled UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are "lawful" and can continue, despite concerns over indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Yemen and the use of cluster bombs.
3 min read
10 July, 2017
Campaign group CAAT claims the UK is complicit in the destruction of Yemen [Getty]
A UK court has ruled Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful, despite concerns over the civilian death toll during Riyadh's bombing campaign in Yemen.

The High Court delivered its verdict on Monday morning, saying it found no "real risk" that there might be "serious violations" of International Humanitarian Law such that UK's sale of weapons to its biggest client should be suspended or cancelled.

The court also delivered a closed judgement in the case where half of the evidence, described by the court as a "more sophisticated range of information than that available to the claimant's sources" was heard in secret after the government argued it contained sensitive defence information that could not be heard in public for national security reasons.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade, which sought a judicial review, said it will appeal the "disappointing" decision.

"If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law," CAAT's Andrew Smith said.

The UK government has licensed around £4.1 billion ($5.3bn) of weapons to the Middle East since the election in May 2015. 

Some £3.3 billion (USD 4.25 bln) of which were deals signed with Saudi Arabia alone, as the kingdom continues a brutal war on Houthi rebels in Yemen, where 13,000 civililans have been killed.
"This case has seen an increased scrutiny of the government's toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia

A key piece of open evidence presented to the court quotes the head of the government's Export Control Organisation saying that the Ministry of Defence was unable to identify a "valid military target" for each of the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes.

Among some of this weaponry were British-made cluster bombs which Saudi Arabia admitted to using in December 2016. Britain is a member of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning their use.

"This case has seen an increased scrutiny of the government's toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia," Smith added.

"It is a relationship that more than ever needs to be examined and exposed. For decades the UK has been complicit in the oppression of Saudi people, and now it is complicit in the destruction of Yemen."

Amnesty International added the ruling was a "deadly blow" to Yemeni civilians under attack by a coalition "bolstered by UK-manufactured weapons".

In its judgement, the High Court said the open and closed evidence demonstrated that the Secretary of State for International Trade was "rationally entitled to conclude" that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was not deliberately targeting civilians, that Saudi processes and procedures have been put in place to abide by International Humanitarian Law, that the coalition was investigating incidents of civilian casualties and that Saudi Arabia was "genuinely committed" to compliance with International Humanitarian Law.

Since the conflict in Yemen began, more than 13,000 civilians have been killed and injured. According to UN figures, at least seven million Yemeni civilians are on the brink of famine and with 200,000 suspected cases of cholera.