Saudi Arabia: Fresh legal challenge to stop UK Government supplying arms for use in Yemen
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK will this week join the appeal against the UK’s continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia in a fresh legal challenge.
The organizations will intervene in the case, brought by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), at the Court of Appeal in London seeking to challenge the legality of the UK Government’s decision to issue licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, despite the risk of the weapons being used for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict.
How many more people must die before the UK Government admits it is in the wrong?
“The people of Yemen are being killed and are at serious risk of famine because of the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition’s relentless bombing campaign that has been made possible by British arms and equipment,” said Lucy Claridge, Amnesty International’s Director of Strategic Litigation.
“How many more people must die before the UK Government admits it is in the wrong? By selling billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, ministers are signing a death warrant for the people of Yemen.
“Across Europe, several countries have stopped selling arms to Saudi Arabia because they know it goes against their legal obligations and have seen the devastation they are causing. It is time for the UK Government to stop putting profit before people’s lives.”
Since a Saudi Arabia-led Coalition entered the Yemen conflict four years ago, more than 17,640 people have been killed and injured. The United Nations has assessed that the majority of casualties have been the result of Coalition bombing. A man-made humanitarian crisis has spiralled since then, with approximately 14 million people in the country currently at risk of starvation.
The Saudi Arabia-led Coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate air strikes in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, weddings and funerals. Amnesty International has so far documented 41 Coalition air strikes that appear to have violated international humanitarian law, many of which amount to war crimes. These have resulted in at least 512 civilian deaths and 433 civilians injured.
Suspended sales to Saudi Arabia
The UK’s failure to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia appears largely out of step with actions taken by other states in Europe. Several countries - including the Netherlands, Belgium (Flemish region) and Greece - responded to public pressure by partly or totally suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Other countries - such as Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland - have put in place restrictive measures on exports to Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, several European states also announced they would be suspending arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, Norway, Finland and Denmark.
Amnesty International reports from Yemen
Extensive and credible reports, including Amnesty International’s own research in Yemen, have demonstrated that British-made weapons have been repeatedly used - and continue to be used - to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.
According to publicly available information, Saudi Arabia has not adequately investigated such violations, nor has it held those responsible for any breaches to account. As such, there is a clear risk that authorising further arms exports would lead to further serious violations in Yemen, and therefore would be counter to the UK’s obligations under domestic and international law.
Amnesty International and others have documented how all sides to the conflict in Yemen have committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes. This includes the Huthi armed group and allied forces which have also indiscriminately fired explosive munitions with wide-area effects - including mortars and artillery shells - into residential areas, killing and injuring civilians.
The case was originally heard by the High Court in London in February 2017, in which CAAT had argued that arms transfers to Saudi Arabia should be halted because of the clear risk that the weapons supplied would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. However, the Court dismissed CAAT’s case, and ruled in July 2017 that the UK Government was entitled to continue authorizing arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Among other things, the High Court ruling (paragraph 209) discussed the significance of the “finely-balanced” nature of the decision said to be confronting officials and ministers. Amnesty International’s joint intervention focuses on how a clear risk is determined, the authoritative nature of NGO research reports and the value they have in making such a determination.
Having been given permission to appeal the ruling in May 2018, CAAT’s case will now be heard by the Court of Appeal in London from 9 to 11 April.