U.K. Court Of Appeal Labels Current Arms Trade With Saudi Arabia As Unlawful

A report published on June 20th by the U.K. Court of Appeal has labelled the U.K. government’s decision to continually license the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia, as unlawful. Indiscriminate bombing; repeated human rights violations and possible war crimes by both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi Rebels have been linked to U.K. arms sales. The judicial review was brought to the court by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) in 2016 but initially dismissed, when the court ruled the government’s actions as lawful. However, with further backing from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Rights Watch U.K. an appeal was heard in April 2019 and ruled on today. In response, Amnesty International has called on the Secretary of State to suspend current licenses and to not grant any further exports; however, judge Sir Terence Etherton ruled that licenses need not be immediately suspended. Nonetheless, this is a positive ruling for the people of Yemen and for the reduction and eventual eradication of unlawful arms sales.

Andrew Smith of CAAT said, “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.” Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour backbench MP who was in court for the ruling, said it was a “damning judgement” adding that he would take affirmative action against U.K. arms sales in parliament, hoping members of his party would do the same.

Unfortunately, Lloyd Russel-Moyle may come across opposition in parliament, especially from the Conservative party, because Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, who are both in the race to be the next prime minister, previously defended the U.K.’s arms relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, the accusative and thorough nature of this report cannot be dismissed by those that wish to continue exporting.

The actions of CAAT and allied human rights groups are as important as the ruling itself because their perseverance has meant the government must increase transparency and accountability, especially regarding its relationship to groups that intend to do harm. Furthermore, the report has transformed the standard of evidencing in a Court of Appeal: the authoritative nature of research carried out by Amnesty and other NGOs, demonstrates the value their research has in tackling governmental issues. Collective and organized action is the most effective way to make the government admit to wrongdoing and change its ways for the betterment of humanity; albeit, it can be a slow process.

Dan Sabbagh, in the Guardian, reports that “the U.K. has licensed the sale of at least £4.7bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the civil war in Yemen in March 2015;” with the report highlighting, that this trade agreement has increased the longevity of the conflict. The death toll is quickly approaching 100,000 according to a report compiled by Acled (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project). Acled’s comprehensive report covers the four years of the Yemen conflict, approximating that 11,700 civilian deaths are the result of direct targeting events, whereas indirect deaths eclipse this number. Clionadh Raleigh, Acled’s executive director, said “the data is both a tool and a warning,” emphasizing how the international community should use the data to resolve the conflict rather than simply monitor it.

Despite numerous ceasefire attempts, the conflict in Yemen shows little evidence of a peaceful resolution; therefore, preventing the continued licensing of weapons to Saudi Arabia is a positive step, but international condemnation and sanctions can foster solidarity among nations against the continuation of the Yemen conflict. Already, several European countries – Netherlands, Belgium, and Greece – have “partly or totally suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia” whilst many others are beginning to follow suit. I would argue, it is easy for British politics to forget about the immediacy of humanitarian crises when politicians are wrapped up in Brexit and leadership rhetoric; additionally, certain politicians are quick to forget any malpractice when certain policies, such as arms sales with Saudi Arabia, have continued unimpeded for so long. Further backing by politicians, the public, and other humanitarian organizations, regarding the report, is the best way to halt current arms trades and prevent further misconduct by the government.

Jonathan Boyd