Government bids to resurrect arms sales to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful

Government bids to resurrect arms sales to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful

The government has applied to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it fights a decision by the Court of Appeal to rule them unlawful. As The Independent writes, ministers are attempting to stay last month’s judgment as they launch the latest legal challenge in a long-running battle over weapons used in the Yemen war. If granted, the stay will allow the government to continue licensing arms sales to Saudi and its partners until the outcome of its appeal.

The government said 57 applications for export licences were under consideration at the time of the Court of Appeal ruling, and 295 already in place to Saudi Arabia.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) argued that arms sales to Riyadh are unlawful and have caused UK fighter jets and bombs to be used to kill civilians. “We weren’t surprised when the application came in because the government will do anything it can to maintain arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” spokesperson Andrew Smith told The Independent. The stay would let them carry on as normal.” Jeremy Corbyn called for a full inquiry into why ministers have “disregarded the evidence that Saudi Arabia is violating international humanitarian law” in Yemen.

“Despite clear legal warnings that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia has contributed to the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world, the Conservatives are determined to allow sales to carry on regardless,” the Labour leader said. “This makes a mockery of their own commitment to halt all new sales while a review takes place into civilian casualties. Nothing could be clearer - the government's priority is to sell arms, not to protect the rights and lives of Yemeni people.” The Court of Appeal found the government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.

Judges said that it was “irrational and therefore unlawful” for the international trade secretary to license weapons exports without assessing past allegations and whether there was a “clear risk” of future breaches. In the wake of the ruling on 20 June, international trade secretary Liam Fox insisted the government applied a “rigorous and robust multi-layered process” in line with UK and EU criteria.

He said the government would not grant any new export licences for Saudi and its military partners in Yemen. A government spokesperson said the commitment would be honoured in spite of the application to stay the judgment.  “We will fully comply with the court’s judgment, but we are seeking permission to appeal the court’s ruling,” a statement said.

“As we said at the time, we will not be granting any new licences for Saudi Arabia and coalition partners for items which might be used in the conflict in Yemen, while we consider the implications of the judgment for decision-making.”

The High Court had previously ruled in the government’s favour, finding that it was “rationally entitled” to conclude that the Saudi-led coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians and was investigating reported incidents.

CAAT challenged the 2017 ruling and took fresh evidence from the Yemen conflict to the Court of Appeal, which reviewed classified material in closed hearings earlier this year. Judges found that although the UK had “engaged closely” with Riyadh in attempt to minimise civilian casualties in Yemen, the efforts fell short of the legal obligation to assess the risk of war crimes.

Saudi Arabia leads a coalition that has been conducting airstrikes in Yemen since 2015, in support of President Abedrabbuh Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels and other opponents.  CAAT said thousands of people have been killed in Saudi-led bombing, and many more as a result of an ongoing humanitarian “catastrophe”, which includes a cholera outbreak and starvation. The UK has licensed nearly £5bn of arms exports to Saudi Arabia since the start of the Yemen war.