A UK court ruled Monday that the government’s sale of arms supplies to Saudi Arabia is lawful, dealing a major setback for human rights organizations who called the ruling “deeply disappointing.”
London’s high court dismissed a legal challenge sought by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), an organization dedicated to ending the international arms trade, that sought to block export licenses of arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The group argued that there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law,” referring to Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilian targets in Yemen.
The court ruled that the UK government has worked closely with the Saudis to improve and ensure compliance with international humanitarian laws with regards to its military operations in Yemen. The ruling added that it’s “clear from the evidence that Saudi Arabia has sought positively to address these concerns, in particular by conducting investigations into incidents and setting up a permanent investigatory body.”
CAAT, which will appeal the decision, said that the ruling could be seen as a “green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers.” Amnesty International, another human rights organization that was part of the legal challenge, similarly called the ruling disappointing and said that it was a “clear risk [the arms] will be used to commit violations.”
The case was heard over three days in February behind closed doors without the presence of CAAT and its law firm Leigh Day, BuzzFeed reported.
Reports from Amnesty International strongly suggest that such weapons are used by Saudi Arabia against civilians in Yemen. More than 13,000 people have been killed since war broke out in Yemen in 2015. Saudi Arabia intervened to back the Yemeni government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. But Saudi-led air strikes have reportedly failed to discern civilian and military targets in Yemen, resulting in attacks on weddings, hospitals, schools, and other civilian buildings. In fact, more than a third of all airstrikes hit hospitals, schools, and civilian infrastructure, according to the Yemen Data Project.
Those who live in the country suffer extreme hardships. More than 72 percent of Yemen’s population of 27 million people requires humanitarian assistance this year, and 6.8 million people were deemed “severely food insecure,” according to the World Food Programme. One in three children are malnourished, likely teetering on the brink of death.
Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015, about three million people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority of whom are seeking refuge in Yemen’s central and western governorates. But Saudi-led airstrikes take place in those areas too, where a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Hajjah was struck in August 2016.
The country remains beset by a variety of problems including a cholera outbreak that has affected more than 300,000 people over the past ten weeks. In May, a food distribution point set up by a human rights organization was partially destroyed by an airstrike.
Last year, the head of the Export Control Organization wrote to the UK business secretary that his “gut tells me we should suspend [weapons exports] to Saudi Arabia because of concerns that the arms sales could contravene with international humanitarian law.
Western countries have put international pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the conflict in Yemen through peace talks and ceasefires. But these same countries, namely the United Kingdom and the United States, have also authorized arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Since 2015, the UK has sold $4.2 billion worth of arms exports for military equipment, aircraft, and munitions to Saudi Arabia. Last month, the U.S. Senate voted to support the government to sell $500 million in precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, as part of a $110 billion arms sale proposal.