The UK Court of Appeal finds the Government has been acting irrationally and unlawfully with respect to its arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

The UK Government must now stop its immoral and illegal arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The UK Court of Appeal made a landmark decision today, overturning a 2017 ruling that allowed the UK government to continue licensing arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. The new ruling supports claims by human rights and humanitarian groups including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Amnesty International, Oxfam UK, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK, that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are in breach of national and international obligations.

CAAT campaigners outside UK Court of Appeal. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

UK arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition have facilitated egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015. These have included multiple unlawful airstrikes which targeted homes, markets, hospitals, schools, mosques and other civilian targets.

In one such attack in April 2018, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding, killing 22 civilians, including eight children. In another on 9 August 2018, a bomb was dropped on a school bus. Forty boys between the ages of 6 and 11on a school field trip lost their lives that day.  These tragic examples are numerous in Yemen.

The conflict, throughout which all sides have caused great suffering to the Yemeni population, has been repeatedly condemned as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  An estimated 24 million Yemenis – about 80% of the population –  are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Of these 11.3 million are children.  Military attacks on civilian infrastructure, coupled with the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, have also contributed to the world’s worst cholera outbreak which in 2017 reached 1 million cases.

Verity Coyle of Control Arms with Oxfam, Amnesty International, CAAT and Saferworld members, outside UK Court with the decision.

The UK has remained one of the main arms suppliers of the Saudi-led coalition, having licensed more than £6 billion worth of arms and military items to Saudi Arabia since the Bombing of Yemen began in 2015, including air-to-air missiles, combat aircraft, sniper rifles and components for bombs. Deliveries to Saudi Arabia have persisted throughout the conflict despite repeated calls from civil society organisations as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to halt arms transfers that could be used to facilitate human rights and humanitarian law violations in Yemen, and even as a growing list of other arms-exporting states moved to stop or restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The decision by the Court of Appeal is extremely welcome, but the fact that the UK has persisted in supplying Saudi Arabia for so long despite the catalogue of international law violations has called into question both the commitment of the UK to honour its national, European and international legal obligations and the way in which it has been able to manipulate the national system in ways that appear to defy common sense and logic.

“This is a lifesaving decision made today by the Court of Appeal. It is an important step towards protecting civilians from death, displacement, fear and suffering and enabling their access to much needed food, medicine and water. It is a step towards restoring hope in a peaceful and secure future for Yemeni civilians.  It is also a step towards reinforcing faith in the ATT and the concept of legal controls on arms transfers more generally, which the UK government, historically a champion of the ATT, has undermined through its supplying the Yemen war. The UK government should comply with the Court’s decision and immediately cancel all arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia” stressed Verity Coyle of Control Arms.

The UK Court of Appeal ruling follows hard on the heels of a decision in Belgium by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, that a series of arms export licences, originally granted for exports to Saudi Arabia but then suspended in June 2018, must be cancelled outright. It is encouraging that less than five years after the entry-into-force of the ATT, we are seeing signs that national courts are ready to start testing government decisions and processes against their legal obligations.  

“The recent court judgements in Belgium and the UK  should serve as a marker for other countries currently supplying arms at risk of being used in the war in Yemen, including France, Italy and the USA. These governments are complicit in the suffering of millions of civilians and should cease their arms transfers immediately, in light of the overwhelming evidence that these arms might be used in Yemen to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” noted Raluca Muresan of Control Arms.

Notes to Editors:

  • Every day, up to 2000 people are killed globally by armed violence and millions more live in fear of rape, assault and displacement caused by weapons getting into the wrong hands.
  • The ATT is one of the fastest multilateral arms agreements to enter into force. There are 103 States that have joined to the ATT as well as an additional 33 that have signed but not yet ratified the Treaty. States Parties include major arms exporters such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.
  • The Control Arms Coalition is a global civil society movement that was a driving force in the decade-long campaign for an ATT, and is now advocating for effective Treaty implementation. Control Arms represents over 150 organisations, including major international NGOs as well as many regional and national-level organisations.
  • Spokespeople are available for interview. To arrange interviews contact: Verity Coyle (UK) +44 (0) 7971410043, Raluca Muresan (US) +1 (623) 776-5727

About the court case 

About the conflict in Yemen 

Radhya Al-Mutawakel,Chair of Mwatana for Human Rights, Yemen-based human rights organisation

Radhya Al-Mutawakel at a Press Conference before the Third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (11 September 2017)
Photo: Ralf Schlesener/ ControlArms

“The British government should respect the court’s ruling and immediately cancel weapon all export licenses to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In doing so, it will finally meet its international commitments to protect civilians and civilian objects in Yemen.  The court ruling is an invitation to the coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to wake up and make civilian protection a priority, and push for a political solution.”  

Contact: Osama Al-Fakih: oalfakih@mwatana.org / http://mwatana.org/en/  

Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Advisor at Human Rights Watch, an intervenor in support of the case

“Today’s ruling shatters the UK’s policy of denying Saudi’s appalling human rights record in its war in Yemen. All other EU states should stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately”.

Contact: tilianm@hrw.org / hrwpress@hrw.org

Matthew Spencer, Campaigns Director at Oxfam, an intervenor in support of the case

“This ruling offers real hope for the people of Yemen. The government now needs to respond by ending the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Calling for peace while selling arms that allow Saudi Arabia to continue bombing Yemen, including hospitals, schools and markets, is a contradiction that has proved catastrophic for the people of Yemen. 

Millions of Yemenis are struggling to survive one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises, a full- man-made catastrophe fueled by arms sales from the UK government, among others.

It is time for the UK to put more effort into securing a peace deal instead of into arms deals, and put pressure on its allies to agree an immediate ceasefire and commit to an inclusive peace process.”

Contact: 01865 472089 / 07810 181514 / sgrainger1@oxfam.org.uk 

Paul Murphy, Director of Saferworld, which campaigns for UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be suspended

“The Court of Appeal has finally confirmed what has been obvious for years: Saudi Arabia is guilty of committing repeated, serious violations of international law in Yemen, and the UK Government has been wilfully ignoring this in its decisions to sell weapons. With the UK providing humanitarian assistance to Yemen and claiming to be leading efforts to establish a peace process, it’s time to end the contradictory policy of arming the conflict.

We look forward in the first instance to the UK Government cancelling existing licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, followed by a fundamental rethink about how to meets its obligations properly in future,”

Contact: +44 (0)20 7324 4646 / ebourne@saferworld.org.uk

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), who brought the court case

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. 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.”

Contact: media@caat.org.uk / 020 7281 0297 

Lucy Claridge, Director of Strategic Litigation at Amnesty International, an intervenor in support of the case

“This judgment is a rare piece of good news for the people of Yemen. During four years of devastating war the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen, flattening homes, schools and hospitals in indiscriminate air strikes.

This is the first time that a UK court has acknowledged the risks of continuing to lavish Saudi Arabia with military equipment for use in Yemen. We welcome this judgment as a major step towards preventing further bloodshed.

We call upon the Secretary of State to undertake this review as a matter of urgency and believe it should result in suspension.

We hope that this marks the end of this chapter of shameful impunity and leads to increased scrutiny of other major arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, such as France and the US. We continue to call for the immediate suspension of all arms transfers to all parties to the conflict for use in Yemen.”

Contact: +44 20 7413 5566 / press@amnesty.org   

Rocco Blume, Head of Policy and Advocacy at War Child, which campaigns for UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be suspended

This landmark ruling shows the UK government has failed Yemen’s children. As the UK continues to seek to make a name for itself on the international stage post-Brexit, now is the time to stand up for the very rules and guidelines that we claim to uphold. 

Following this ruling the UK must immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia for as long as there is a clear risk that these arms could be used to harm civilians and children.”

Contact: 07764989343 / mirandap@warchild.org.uk

Ben Donaldson, Head of Campaigns at United Nations Association UK, which advocates for UK action at the UN

“This is a massive blow to the UK’s standing on the world stage. It shows Britain has ignored the rules-based international system and put trade before the lives of Yemeni civilians. Now things must change.”

Contact: 020 7766 3445 / carver@una.org.uk