UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia in breach of national, international and EU law, say lawyers

Campaign Against Arms Trade calls for suspension of the arms trade between countries

Kate Ng
Sunday 10 January 2016 19:07 GMT
Yemeni workers inspect the damage at a Coca-Cola factory after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa
Yemeni workers inspect the damage at a Coca-Cola factory after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa (Getty)

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”.

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.

Yemen: Airstrike hits centre for the blind in Sanaa as Saudi-led bombing continues

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”.

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