Just as the Yemen ceasefire is on the brink of collapse, Amnesty International, in conjunction with Saferworld, has released a report accusing the British government of breaking national, EU and international laws and policies by supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia in the context of its military intervention and bombing campaign in Yemen.
In the professional opinion of lawyers Philippe Sands QC, Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers, the UK government is acting in breach of its obligations arising under the Arms Trade Treaty of 2013, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the UK’s Consolidated Criteria on arms exports in its continued authorisation of transfers of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia within the scope of those instruments, capable of being used in Yemen.
The UK government asserts that it is not taking an active part in the military campaign in Yemen, but Amnesty says the UK has issued more than 100 licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia since that country began bombing Yemen in March 2015, including more than £1.75 billion worth of combat aircraft and bombs for the use of the Royal Saudi Air Force. Between 2010 and 2015, the last coalition government licensed £4billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
During the years 2005-2014, the Middle East was the largest regional importer of defence equipment and services, with the UK, the US and France acting as the major suppliers to the region. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest defence importer, with more orders/contracts signed than India and US combined; in 2014, the Kingdom accounted for 66% of UK’s defence exports. During the ten-year period of 2005-14, the Middle East dominated the regional breakdown of UK defence exports at 61%, mostly in the aerospace sector.
“Thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes, and there’s a real risk that misery was ‘Made in Britain’,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director.
“UK government policy on Yemen is in disarray. The UK gives aid to help the victims of war while illegally supplying weapons that cause their misery… It’s time the government acted as a peace broker, rather than an arms broker. The first step would be to suspend further licences and transfers of weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Saferworld.
The Matrix lawyers conclude that the UK government can be deemed to have “actual knowledge... of the use by Saudi Arabia of weapons, including UK-supplied weapons, in attacks directed against civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international law”, since at least May 2015.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is considering legal action over arms export licences to Saudi Arabia with law
firm Leigh Day. Andrew Smith, spokesperson for CAAT told The Sunday Guardian, “There are serious allegations of war crimes committed by the Saudi led coalition, UK weapons and military co-operation
have been central to the bombardment. We are exploring legal action. We believe that these arms sales should not have been allowed to take place.”