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British court rules arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful

Demonstrators react after learning the British Court of Appeal ruled UK licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia is illegal, June 20, 2019
Demonstrators react after learning the British Court of Appeal ruled UK licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia is illegal, June 20, 2019 REUTERS/Simon Dawson

British arms sales to Saudi Arabia specifically for use in Yemen were ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal on Thursday, as the British government did not look into whether or not the munitions killed civilians and violated humanitarian law.


“The government made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so,” according to a statement by the Court of Appeal, adding that there was a “legal obligation” to make an assessment of past and possible future violations.

The ruling, handed down by three judges, stemmed from a court case brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), who accused the British government of violating international humanitarian law by licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“We won!” said CAAT on their website, adding, “We celebrate this historic verdict. But these weapons sales should never have been licensed in the first place.”

The group said that a group of campaigners should not need to take the government to court “to force it to apply its own rules.”

Saudi Arabia heads the coalition against Yemen that began in March 2015, and has continued to bomb the neighbouring country in an effort to take out Houthi rebels.

The UK has licenced 5.3 billion euros in weapons to The Kingdom since the beginning of the coalition.

British prime minister frontrunner Boris Johnson, in his former position as foreign secretary had allowed arms sales to Saudis to continue, even after an airstrike on a potato factory killed civilians in 2016.

Current British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, another top candidate in the running as the next prime minister, defended licensing arms exports to Saudi Arabia in an opinion piece published earlier this year. If the UK did not sell arms to The Kingdom, both sides would have to deal with the issue on their own, he said.

“That would be morally bankrupt and the people of Yemen would be the biggest losers,” he added.

According to data from the Armed Conflict and Location Events Dataset, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2016.

Estimates indicate that the Saudi coalition caused two-thirds of civilian deaths in Yemen.

An annual report from the French Armed Forces Ministry said France sold 1 billion euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, with 500 million of the total going to buy patrol boats. Patrol boats have been used against the Houthi-controlled ports in Yemen to create a naval blockade.

US Senate

In related news, the United Sates Senate is seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to sell some seven billion euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Trump maintains that the emergency arms sales is justified after threats from Iran.

Lawmakers have objected to the sales, saying that the Saudi-led coalition, of which UAE is a member, are committing human rights abuses in Yemen with regular air strikes on civilians.

The Senate is expected to vote later on Thursday.

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