U.K. Says Saudi Arms Sales Lawful

In a major win for Riyadh, U.K. judges ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful, rejecting criticism of the sales.

The Secretary of State for International Trade reviewed U.K. arms sales to the Gulf kingdom and was “rationally entitled to conclude” that there was no deliberate effort to target civilians in Yemen. The judges reviewed a “large volume” of secret documents, which “[provide] valuable additional support for the conclusion.”

The review followed a challenge by The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which had argued that the sale of U.K. military systems to Saudi Arabia were illegal.

The U.K. has delivered Typhoon fighter jets as well as a range of air-launched munitions to Saudi Arabia in recent years.

CAAT has asserted Saudi Arabia “used UK weapons to help crush democracy protests in Bahrain, and now UK-made warplanes are playing a central role in Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen.” The U.K.-based organization argued that the use of U.K. weapons in Yemen, in particular, violates British arms export law and that licenses for arms sales must not be granted if there is a “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.”

Saudi Arabia began an Arab coalition effort to oust Ansar Allah rebels from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, in March 2015. Together with the United Arab Emirates, and supported by other regional States, Saudi Arabia has conducted airstrikes on Ansar Allah positions and aided forces loyal to deposed President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Thousands have been killed in fighting in Yemen and, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), over 14 million people in the country, out of a population around 27 million, are food insecure — with nearly half of that figure on the brink of starvation. UNOCHA further adds there are at least 240,000 suspected cholera cases in the country, if not more.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of deliberately targeting civilians, which the coalition denies. The U.K. ruling sides in favor with Saudi Arabia, concluding that Saudi Arabia was not deliberately targeting Yemeni civilians.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith said in response to the ruling,

“This is a very disappointing verdict, and we are pursuing an appeal. If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.”

The organization has said it will appeal the ruling.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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