Stop arming the Saudi war in Yemen

IssueFebruary - March 2016
News by Natalie Shanklin

The British government must end arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the Saudi naval blockade of, and air strikes in, Yemen that are breaching international law, according to Amnesty International and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). An arms cut-off is supported by most people in the UK, a recent poll has found.

On 10 January, a law firm acting for CAAT began taking legal action against the government, issuing a ‘pre-action protocol letter for judicial review’. Leigh Day cited a number of Saudi war crimes in Yemen, including ‘The targeting of civilians and those not directly participating in hostilities’ by Saudi airstrikes.

A comprehensive legal analysis of the Saudi campaign in Yemen has been conducted for Amnesty International and Saferworld. Professor Philippe Sands QC, professor Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers conclude that, on the basis of the information available, the UK government ‘is acting in breach of its obligations arising under the UK’s Consolidated Criteria on arms exports, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the Arms Trade Treaty’.

Amnesty has also used recently-released figures from the department for business, innovation and skills to reveal that the UK granted more than £1bn worth of arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia in the third quarter of last year.

David Cameron’s government have allowed more than £5.6 billion of military licenses to Saudi Arabia since Cameron took office in May 2010, making Saudi Arabia the largest buyer of UK arms by far.

‘The law is crystal clear: any Saudi attack, whether deliberate or not, that fails to adequately protect civilians is a violation of international law,’ Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs said. ‘And our obligations are equally clear — as a major supplier of Saudi Arabia’s weaponry, the UK is legally obliged to suspend arms exports.’

A recent study by Opinium LLP for CAAT reveals that 62 percent of UK adults who were surveyed oppose arms exports to Saudi Arabia, with only 16 percent of survey adults in favor of them.

‘UK bombs and fighter jets have been central to the destruction of Yemen,’ CAAT media coordinator Andrew Smith said. ‘As long as Saudi enjoys the political military support of the most powerful Western nations, then it will continue oppressing its own population and those of neighbouring states.’