UK court approves arms sales to Saudi Arabia

London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.

Andrew Smith, a spokesman for CAAT, said:

This is a very disappointing verdict, and we are pursuing an appeal. If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.

Burnett said he would consider the appeal but at the present time "there was no clear risk that there might 'be serious violations' of International Humanitarian Law" compelling the court to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Supplying arms to countries in wartime has been an international concern in recent years. The Federal Court of Canada in January refused to block the Canadian government from selling arms to Saudi Arabia. In November 2016, Human Rights Watch called on the US to halt the sale of weapons to the government of Saudi Arabia. The call came days after the Department of Defense (DoD) announced a Foreign Military Sale estimated at $1.29 billion for air-to-ground munitions. The DoD stated that weapons are being exhausted by Saudi forces in counter-terrorism operations and the sale will help the country defend itself against threats from adversaries in the future. However, according to HRW, Saudi airstrikes in Yemen may be violations of laws of war. In March 2016 two human rights groups called for the US, the UK and France to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia due to accusations and evidence that the weapons are being used in attacks against Yemen.

From Jurist, July 10. Used with permission.

Note: The UN has warned that US-supplied weapons may have been used in the commission of war crimes by Saudi forces in Yemen.


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