UK minister 'refused' to halt Saudi arms sales

UK minister 'refused' to halt Saudi arms sales
A top civil servant's warning to ministers about arms sales to Saudi Arabia went unheeded, the High Court heard in the first day of a legal challenge against the government.
2 min read
07 February, 2017
Britain has licensed over $3.7bn in arms to Saudi Arabia since March 2015 [AFP]
Former UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly refused to halt weapons sales to to Saudi Arabia last year despite being warned by a top civil servant about potential human rights violations being committed in Yemen, a London court heard Monday.

The claim about the minister comes as part of a legal challenge launched by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to halt arms exports to the oil-rich kingdom.

According to an email presented to the High Court from February 2016, the head of the government's Export Control Organisation (ECO), Edward Bell, advised Javid against proceeding with the exports.

"To be honest – and I was very directly and honest with the Secretary of State – my gut tells me we should suspend," the email read.

"This would be prudent and cautious given the acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi operations. I put this directly to the Secretary of State in these terms".

The email adds that the meeting between Bell and Javid took place on February 10 of last year, a day before the email was sent.

Another piece of evidence presented to the court quotes the ECO head saying that the Ministry of Defence was unable to  
identify a "valid military target" for all of the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes.

"They cannot be certain that the vast majority of total airstrikes that are not being tracked have all been IHL-compliant," he concludes.

CAAT accuses the UK government of unlawfully failing to suspend arms sales to Riyadh despite the kingdom's "repeated and serious breaches" of international humanitarian law.

In December, the Saudi-led coalition admitted using British-made cluster bombs in its campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Cluster bombs contain multiple sub-munitions, which sometimes do not explode and become de facto landmines that can kill or maim long after being dropped.

Britain is party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their use.

The UK government, however, has long maintained that there is no "clear risk" that UK-licensed weapons might be used to commit a serious violations of humanitarian law. 

The three-day hearing is expected to continue at the High Court in London on February 8 and 10.