The UK government has been informed it is in breach of national, EU and international law by supplying British-made missiles and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, and may face legal action.
Numerous human rights groups, the European parliament and the UN since last year have said weapons sold to Saudi Arabia may have been used to kill innocent civilians.
And lawyers acting on behalf of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have prepared a legal letter, accusing the government of failing in its legal duty to prevent and condemn violations of international humanitarian law.
According to the Guardian, the 19-page letter warns the government it is behaving unlawfully by refusing to suspend current licences on military equipment, as well as continuing to issue new ones that may be used in Yemen in the future.
The letter, intended for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which approves export licences, cites article two of the EU Council Common Position on arms sales.
The article states that the UK is compelled to “exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licences”, specifically when it comes to “countries where serious violations of human rights have been established”.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
It adds that Member States of the EU “shall deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law”.
The contents of the letter, written by lawyers from law firm Leigh Day, have been echoed in an analysis by international law experts commissioned by Amnesty International and Safeworld, both members of the control arms campaign.
The law experts, from Matrix Chambers, concluded the UK government can be deemed to have had “actual knowledge” of Saudi’s use of weapons, including those supplied by the UK, “in attacks directed against civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international law” since at least May 2015.
The Government has been given 14 days to suspend licences allowing the export of arms to Saudi Arabia by lawyers representing CAAT, reports the Guardian.
Andrew Smith of CAAT said in a statement in December: “The UK has continued to support air strikes and provide arms, despite strong evidence that war crimes are being committed.
“The Saudi regime has an appalling human rights record at home and abroad and these arms sales should never have been approved in the first place.”
The accusations come after it emerged the Conservative government has licenced £5.6bn in sales of arms, fighter jets, and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia since 2010.
The figure was revealed after Saudi authorities carried out a mass execution of 47 prisoners, prompting global outrage.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business confirmed to the Guardian it had received the legal letter, but could not comment due to “ongoing legal action”.Reuse content