Lawyers call for government to suspend Saudi arms sales

With the Saudi Arabian regime accused of breaching International Humanitarian Law, lawyers from Leigh Day, representing the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have called on the UK Government to end all existing arms exports to Saudi forces.

Stop Saudi arms sales
Stop Saudi arms sales

Image: Alisdare Hickson

Imogen Benson

Lawyers from Leigh Day, the human rights law firm representing the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have called on the UK Government to suspend all extant arms licenses to Saudi Arabia and to refuse all future arms sales.

This comes following the publication of reports by the United Nations Panel of Experts and the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which conclude that the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Yemen. 

In June, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government had acted unlawfully in supplying UK weapons to Saudi Arabia without making an assessment as to whether Saudi forces had breached IHL. 

Government statistics published in August revealed that the UK had licensed £6.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi military since the start of the bombing campaign, which first began in March 2015.

Now, in a letter dated 9 September 2019, lawyers from Leigh Day suggested that violations of IHL had continued following the initial hearing, noting: “There is a clear and consistent historic and continuing pattern of breaches of IHL. There is no discernable trend of improvement.”

It has been revealed that, since this letter was written, the UK Government has breached the Court order on at least two occasions, having approved two arms licenses for use by the Saudi forces in Yemen.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith said: “The assurances of the Saudi dictatorship cannot be taken seriously, and nor should they provide a fig leaf for arms dealing Governments to hide behind. Last week we saw that the UK Government has failed to uphold the court ruling that should have stopped all new exports of military equipment. There can be no more excuses; it must now end all arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day Solicitors said: “Our clients have written to the Secretary of State setting out the basis on which it is clear that no licenses for equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen can continue. 

“Our clients believe the only lawful decision now is for licenses to be suspended. They have asked for an urgent decision and are currently awaiting a substantive response. If the Secretary of State decides to continue to allow the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, our clients will have to consider seeking court intervention.”

Although the UK Government backed a ceasefire in Yemen in November 2018, the Saudi Arabian regime continues to be the largest buyer of UK arms, meaning that the government has maintained its active role in the conflict.

Despite the Court’s ruling in June, the UK Government invited Saudi Arabia to London earlier this month for one of the world’s largest arms fairs, Defence and Security International (DSEI), along with representatives from other countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s list of ‘human rights priority’ countries, including Bahrain and Colombia. 

You can find out more information on the Campaign Against Arms Trade Website.