UK suspends Saudi licences for 'illegal' arms used in Yemen's bloody war

UK suspends Saudi licences for 'illegal' arms used in Yemen's bloody war
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced the decision to suspend issuing new Saudi licenses for the sale of arms on Thursday.
3 min read
20 June, 2019
Thousands of civilians have been killed in the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen [Getty]

The British government on Thursday said it would suspend issuing new Saudi licenses for the sale of arms that might be used in the Gulf kingdom's bombing campaign in Yemen.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced the decision in parliament after a British court ordered the government to "reconsider" sales due to their humanitarian impact.

Campaigners welcomed a Court of Appeal decision to overturn a 2017 High Court judgment which allowed the UK government to continue licensing the export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, the organisation said in a press release just hours before Fox's announcement.

In April, CAAT went before the UK Court of Appeal to overturn a 2017 High Court judgment which allows the government to continue with arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

In their judgement, the court on Thursday accepted CAAT's appeal, branding it "irrational and therefore unlawful" to have previously approved the exporting license to Saudi Arabia without prior assessment on the humanitarian risk.

"The question whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law ... was a question which required to be faced," the three judges - Rt Hon Sir Terence Etherton; Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Singh - said as they concluded their verdict.

CAAT welcomed their victory, but said they should not have had to go to court to begin with.

"We welcome this verdict, but it should never have taken a court case brought by campaigners to force the Government to follow its own rules," Andrew Smith of CAAT said.

"The Saudi Arabian regime is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, yet, for decades, it has been the largest buyer of UK-made arms. No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK."

He emphasised that the arms sales must now stop immediately.

"The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UK arms companies have profited every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately,” Smith said.

Increased death toll

Meanwhile, a database tracking violence said on Wednesday that Yemen's civil war has killed at least 91,600 people so far, presenting a new estimate after completing reporting for the first months of fighting in 2015.

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, said that in 2015, about 17,100 people were reported killed - the second-most lethal year after 2018, which was the deadliest one on record.

ACLED said 11,900 people were killed this year, compared to 30,800 in 2018.

The group said the Saudi-led coalition and its allies were responsible for more than 8,000 of about 11,700 deaths resulting from the direct targeting of civilians, while the Houthis and their allies were responsible for the rest.

The group said it recorded over 18,400 killed in the southwestern province of Taiz since 2015, placing Taiz as the most violent province in Yemen, largely due to a four-year siege by the Houthis, the group said.

Hodeida and Jawf followed Taiz as the next most violent provinces in Yemen, with almost 10,000 in total combat fatalities, reported in each region since 2015, according the group.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict, which has created what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

 and American-made bombs may have killed or injured thousands of Yemeni civilians, including women and children.

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