UK weaponry sales to Saudi Arabia will come under judicial review after an organisation opposed to the arms trade successfully challenged the UK Government over its support for military forces in Yemen accused of war crimes.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) began legal action after mounting evidence that Saudi Arabian forces supporting Yemeni’s government allegedly committed war crimes resulting in hundreds of children being killed.
The UK has licensed over £2.8 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen began in March 2015 and there are fears that smart bombs with laser guided systems produced in Fife may have been used in attacks on civilians.
More than 6000 people have been killed in a bombing campaign to support the Yemeni regime – backed by Britain, the US and a Saudi-led coalition of mainly Arab states – against Houthi rebels backed by Iran.
The fighting has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe affecting millions of Yemenis and at least 934 children have been killed with another 1356 injured, according to latest figures from UNICEF.
The Royal Saudi Air Force uses UK-made Tornados and Typhoon warplanes that drop laser guided Paveway IV missiles produced by US arms firm Raytheon which has a factory in Glenrothes employing 600 people.
In a landmark decision at the high court in London, Mr Justice Gilbart gave permission for a judicial review into whether UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have breached British and European weapons export laws.
Leigh Day solicitors, acting for CAAT, argued that the indiscriminate nature of coalition airstrikes in Yemen meant there was a significant chance of weapons sold to Saudi Arabia being used for human rights abuses, making them illegal under British and European arms export laws.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “This is a historic decision and we welcome the fact that arms exports to Saudi Arabia will be given the full scrutiny of a legal review, but they should never have been allowed in the first place. The fact that UK aircraft and bombs are being used against Yemen is a terrible sign of how broken the arms export control system is.”
“For too long government has focused on maximising and promoting arms sales, rather than on the human rights of those they are used against. The arms export controls do not work, but how can they when the government is actively promoting arms sales and working hand in glove with regimes like Saudi Arabia?”
“The Saudi Royal Family’s influence is imprinted all over Whitehall’s approach to arms sales and the Middle East. If the government cares for the human rights of those in Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the wider region then it must end its support for the Saudi military and its complicity in Saudi state violence.”'For too long government has focused on maximising and promoting arms sales' - CAATClick To Tweet
The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen has documented 119 coalition sorties relating to war violations while Human Rights Watch reported 36 unlawful airstrikes which killed at least 550 civilians.
In March, remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit were discovered by Human Rights Watch staff investigating an airstrike on a market in Mastaba that killed at least 97 civilians.
Rosa Curling, from the human rights team at Leigh Day, said: “Our clients are delighted the court has recognised this important claim must now progress to a full substantive hearing. The decision taken by the Secretary of State to continue to grant new licences for the sale of arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is unlawful.
“The UK government must ensure it is not allowing weapons from this country to be provided where there is such a clear risk they will be involved in the tragic and horrific events taking place in Yemen.”'This judicial review is a significant success for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and a welcome development.' - Partick Grady MSPClick To Tweet
SNP Defence Committee member Douglas Chapman said “This is the very legal situation that the SNP suggested could happen unless the UK Government opened their eyes to how the war in Yemen was being prosecuted. All evidence suggests that there is a disproportionate harm to civilians in this conflict and all existing licences involving UK export sales should be put on hold meantime.”
“It is very disappointing and disturbing that the UK has gone from being an international leader in upholding humanitarian values to a nation that apparently ignores them, leaving it to groups such as the the Campaign Against Arms Trade to remind them of the values the UK once championed.”
Patrick Grady, SNP MSP for Glasgow North, said: “This judicial review is a significant success for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and a welcome development in the ongoing process to achieve clarity around the alleged use of UK arms in the conflict in Yemen.”
“The SNP at Westminster has repeatedly called for a full investigation into claims that arms made or sold in the UK are being used by Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict. The UK Government has a duty not to facilitate the sales of weapons which may be used in breach of international humanitarian law, and we continue to call for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia until this issue is fully investigated.”
The UK Government did not respond to a request for a comment but it has previously defended its arms sales to Saudi Arabia stating that Britain has one of the “most robust export control regimes in the world” and that it regularly raises the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law with the Saudi-led coalition.
Raytheon did not comment either but the firm has previously said that it contributes towards making the world a safer place and that it complies with all export regulations while being a significant contributor to the Scottish economy.
A version of this article was published by The National on 4th June 2016.