The UK High Court has today ruled against efforts to stop continuing sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. In spite of the clear risk that bombs, missiles and fighter jets sold by the UK Government could be used to kill civilians in Yemen, today’s judgement has upheld the government’s argument that its process is not open to challenge. UK NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade, who brought the challenge before the court, have said they will appeal this judgement.
Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, facing famine, a cholera epidemic and with more than 70 per cent of the population in need of aid. The people of Yemen have suffered more than two years of a relentless bombing campaign carried out by a Saudi-led military coalition. Fighting has destroyed the country. Thousands have been killed and injured by the bombing that has destroyed vital civilian infrastructure. Half of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed as cholera infects 5000 new people every day.
Arms supplies have fuelled this crisis since its start – with the UK Government one of the worst offenders. The UK has sold more than £3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the fighting began in early 2015. The legal challenge brought before the UK High Court was one of many campaign actions by civil society seeking to stop arms supplies that are leading to death and destruction in Yemen.
“Every arms deal with Saudi Arabia brings panic to Yemeni civilians,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel from the Yemen-based human rights organisation Mwatana. ‘After more than two years of bombardment from deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, we know that our lives, homes, markets, weddings, and schools are prospective targets for these weapons.”
“Any decision that arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition can continue is a missed opportunity to save lives.”
Anna Macdonald, Control Arms Director said: “This is a bewildering decision for the High Court to have reached, which effectively sanctions the slaughter of civilians. Thousands of innocent people have died in the Saudi-led airstrikes over the past two years and it’s shameful that the UK government is fighting so hard to be complicit in that. This decision amounts to allowing the government to sit as judge and jury over its own arms deals.
Arms sold to Saudi Arabia are being used to commit atrocities in Yemen and regardless of this court decision, the moral verdict is clear; the government should suspend arms transfers immediately.
Today’s judgement claims ultimately that the Secretary of State was legally entitled to decide not to suspend or cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Half of the evidence heard during the trial was provided in secret before a closed court, and the High Court says this material played a big role in its ruling. Crucially, the court acknowledges that there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the Saudi-led coalition has committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law in the course of its engagement in the Yemen conflict, but claims that this open source material is ‘only part of the picture’.
The UK was one of the first States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was one of the biggest champions of treaty during its negotiation and one of the first countries in the world to sign it. Now it is failing to live up to its legal obligations. It has hidden behind bluster and denials for years, while selling the same types of bombs that are raining down on the people of Yemen. On 17 June, at least 25 people were killed in an airstrike that tore apart a marketplace in northern Yemen.
This judgement is a bitter disappointment for the people of Yemen. The UK Government must face up to its moral and legal responsibilities and immediately stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.