UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful

28th Jun 2019
UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful

(Photo courtesy of CAAT)

Harun Nasrullah

The UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal on June 20.

Arms export licensing decisions of the type held to be unlawful are made by Fox, on the advice of the Foreign Secretary, an office currently held by Hunt and previously by Johnson.

The judgment also accuses former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his successor Jeremy Hunt, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and other key ministers of disregarding the Saudi’s possible international law violations in the war in Yemen when they signed off on arms exports deal.

Sir Terence Etherton, the master of the rolls, said that ministers had “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so.”
As a result, the court said that the UK export licensing process was “wrong in law in one significant respect” and ordered Fox, to hold an immediate review of at least £4.7 billion worth of arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which brought the case against Fox, welcomed the verdict. Andrew Smith of CAAT said the UK Government should not have been forced to “follow its own rules”.

Adding that 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.”

“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,” he continued.

Thousands of civilians have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015 with indiscriminate bombing by a Saudi-led coalition that is supplied by the west and accused of being responsible for about two-thirds of the 11,700 killed in direct attacks.

Other European countries have halted sales to the Gulf kingdom. Germany said it would no longer supply arms following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in October last year.

The judes ruling statement added that “a close reading” of evidence supplied in secret suggested that in “early 2016” – probably when David Cameron was Prime Minister – that there had been a covert change of UK policy towards Saudi Arabia.

Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Singh concluded, “There was a decision, or a change of position so that there would be no assessment of past violation of IHL [international humanitarian law]” by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Trade minister Fox responded by suspending new arms sales to Saudi Arabia while promising to appeal against the verdict. Labour called for a full inquiry and the permanent end of all arms sales to Riyadh.

Fox made an emergency statement in the House of Commons on June 20  arguing that the court had not determined whether it was ethical to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, but “concerns the rationality of the process used to reach decisions.” Fox added: “While we do this, we will not grant any new licences for export to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”

However, Antiarms trade campaigners say that some bomb types used by the Saudi are covered by separate “open licences”, which have not been suspended by Fox, and are only under review.

Labour called for a full parliamentary or public inquiry into arms sales to the Gulf kingdom. The Party’s Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “UK advice, assistance and arms supplies to Saudi’s war in Yemen is a moral stain on our country. Arms sales to Saudi must stop now.”
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary called for “a full parliamentary or public inquiry” into Ministers “responsible for those breaches of the law.” She also called for dramatic changes in arms export rules.

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