UK: Arms sales to Saudi Arabia declared unlawful

LONDON (AA): U.K. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia have been declared unlawful as they have contributed to high levels of civilian deaths and casualties in the bombing of Yemen by Saudi-led coalition forces, Britain’s court of appeal said Thursday.

The ruling was passed down by three senior judges after they accepted the legal challenge from the Campaign Against Arms Trade group, which has accused the government of licensing arms sales when it was clear their sales could breach international law.

According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, around £4.7 billion ($5.9 million) worth of arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been licensed by the government since the Saudi-led intervention began in 2015 with record sales taking place before 2018. The U.K. 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,” the court said.

British weapons exports are signed off by the foreign, defense and international trade ministries with Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, have defended the country’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The U.K. government has said it would challenge the ruling that its arms sales to the kingdom are unlawful as they contribute to high civilian fatalities in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“This judgement is not about whether the decisions themselves were right or wrong, but whether the process in reaching those decisions was correct” a spokeswoman from Downing Street said in a press statement. “We disagree with the judgment and will be seeking permission to appeal” she added.

An estimated 8.4 million people are at risk of severe famine and more than 22 million people, 75 percent of Yemen’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance. Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by conflict since 2014, when the Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa. The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies launched a wide-ranging military campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains and shoring up the country’s Saudi-backed government.

The war has resulted in a collapsed economy and a cholera outbreak that has affected over 1.1 million people. Riyadh has repeatedly accused the Houthis of acting as a proxy force for Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-foe in the region.

Calls have been made to governments across the globe to halt weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, resulting in Germany suspending such sales.

The international criticism against the Gulf kingdom rose especially after the murder of Khashoggi in October last year.