Saudi Arabia’s brutal, illegal military intervention in Yemen has suffered a double blow. A court of appeal in the United Kingdom (UK) ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful. Meanwhile, the United States Senate voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan over the military intervention in Yemen, as well as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The decision of the court does not mean that the UK has to immediately halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The country will, however, have to wait before it issues its next arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia. The court, while giving its judgement, found that the procedure that the government was using to give arms licenses to Saudi Arabia was illegal. The court pointed out that the British government failed to make an assessment of whether there was a risk that the arms exported to Saudi Arabia were being used to commit war crimes and violations of international law, and were being used to deliberately target and kill civilians.
The court’s judgement on Thursday came after activists from the group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) filed an appeal in the court of appeals following a High Court decision in the government’s favor. The High Court had said that the government was “rationally entitled” to conclude that the Saudi-led coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians and was also investigating reported incidents.
The CAAT had argued in court that the UK’s fighter jets and bombs were being used to kill civilians and violate international law. In its appeal, it presented fresh evidence from the Yemen war.
The US Senate, meanwhile, in three separate votes, approved 22 resolutions to stop the transfer of more than USD 8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. Two resolutions to block the sale of precision-guided munitions were passed by a tally of 53 to 45 votes. 20 other resolutions were passed by a 51-45 margin. The resolutions still need to be passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, following which they will go to president Donald Trump, who is likely to veto them. Congress can only override his veto if the resolutions pass in both the house and the senate with a two-thirds majority.
The Trump administration had invoked an “emergency provision” of the Arms Export Control Act to go through with the USD 8.1 billion arms sales deal with Saudi Arabia. The provision allows the administration to approve an arms sale without the approval of the US congress in the event of an emergency.
“A historic decision”
Welcoming the UK court’s decision, research coordinator at the CAAT, Sam Perlo-Freeman, said, “We can see that arms sales for use in Yemen are now being challenged internationally – in the US and Europe – but this from a court in one of Saudi Arabia’s top two arms suppliers takes that to a whole new level.”
“It is historic in terms of the government’s approach to export licenses being found to be illegal and adds huge momentum to the campaign both in this country and internationally for a halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition,” he added.
The UK has supplied Saudi Arabia with more than USD 6 billion worth of arms since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen in March 2015. Weapons and military exports to Saudi Arabia account for 43% of the UK’s total arms exports. The CAAT has been campaigning for the last three years to get the export licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia blocked. These weapons are being used in well documented, clear cases of serious and gross human rights violations in contravention of international law.
The war in Yemen has caused the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis in recent times, leading to the deaths of more than 100,000 people. Two million others have been displaced and 22 million have been made dependent on humanitarian aid. According to the UN, more than 3.2 million people are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition, including two million children under the age of five. The UN and other human rights organizations have regularly documented Saudi and coalition airstrikes deliberately targeting civilians at schools, hospitals, markets and homes.