Where Activists from Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) had brought a legal challenge against the department in charge of arms control after British arms continued to flow to the autocracy despite it conducting a bloody military campaign in Yemen, the High Court has ruled that the Government is not breaking the law by continuing to sign off the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
The court ruled: The open and closed evidence demonstrates that the Secretary of State was rationally entitled to conclude … [that] the Coalition were not deliberately targeting civilians, … Saudi processes and procedures have been put in place to secure respect for the principles of International Humanitarian Law … [and that] the Coalition was investigating incidents of controversy, including those involving civilian casualties.
The Justice opinioned that a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law had not been established.
Amnesty International considered the ruling was a deadly blow to Yemeni civilians.
Oxfam held it as was a clear moral case to suspend sales.
Saudi Arabia has been accused by the UN and other observers of killing large numbers of civilians, including through the reported bombing of
- schools, and
in its neighbouring country, where Shia Houthi rebels were intervening.
The judgment observed that the MoD and FCO’s analysis has all the hallmarks of a rigorous and robust, multi-layered process of analysis” and that the evidence presented by the campaigners was “only part of the picture.
Documents successfully revealed that during the course of the judicial review it came to light that the ministers had not taken up advice of top civil servant in charge of the Export Control Organisation who had recommended a halt to sales.
Challenges and opinion to the decision:
Andrew Smith of CAAT said that they would pursue an appeal and were very disappointed verdict, and may lead to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, including £1.1bn worth of ML4 licences, the UK has licensed £3.3bn worth of arms to the Saudi regime and many people have lost their houses.
He also said that this case has seen an increased scrutiny of the Government’s toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a relationship that more than ever needs to be examined and exposed.
“looked forward to deepening our close bilateral ties”
“I want British companies to sell more weapons to the country”
Rosa Curling of law firm Leigh Day, which represented CAAT during the case has said:
All the evidence they seen from Yemen was the risk of humanitarian law breaches which was very real.
Nabil Alsharafi, a managing partner at the NGO Safer Yemen:
Current UK Government’s policy will only fuel the conflict.
This can encourage and inspire those dropping bombs on civilians to continue their human rights violations.
People here are not blind to the situation and know the UK’s stance on arms sales and their support for the Saudi-led coalition which is kills Yemenis each day.
Since the Second World War, it is the worst humanitarian crises and more weapons coming into such a troubled region do not bode well.
They saw the jet fighters circling low around the city again and this is what they are dealing with and we are afraid it will continue now for a long time.
A Government spokesperson
They welcomed this judgment, which underscores the fact that the UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
They shall continue to keep their defence exports under careful review in order to ensure that they meet the rigorous standards of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
Green MP Caroline Lucas
“The judgement doesn’t give any moral justification for [the Government’s] utterly unethical actions when it comes to arms sales”.
A change in the law was “desperately” needed.
The only morally justifiable way forward would be an immediate arms embargo to Saudi Arabia, while the strict legal verdict was that arms sales can continue.