A landmark ruling from the UK’s Court of Appeal on Thursday has found that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen are unlawful.
It reportedly means that the government must now stop issuing new arms exports licences, and must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia.
It’s a historic judgement, and it comes after years of campaigning from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals.
The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which has been instrumental in driving forward efforts to call a halt to the use of UK-exported weapons in the Yemen conflict — which has cost tens of thousands of lives.
CAAT argued that there was a clear risk the weapons being sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK could be used in Yemen, in a violation of international humanitarian law.
“We celebrate this historic verdict,” said CAAT in a statement. “But these weapons sales should never have been licensed in the first place. It should not take a group of campaigners taking the government to court to force it to apply its own rules.”
“It shouldn’t take four years of schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals being bombed,” it added. “It should not take tens of thousands of deaths and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”
Since 2015, Yemen has reportedly been the target of over 18,000 airstrikes and a third of these are believed to have hit "non-military sites" including schools and hospitals.
But as well as the risk to civilian lives from airstrikes and violence, the conflict has had a serious impact on food security in the country, education access, and healthcare, with the spread of cholera in 2017 infecting a million people and claiming thousands of lives.
Summary of the sweet victory today! We'll keep fighting for an end to putting 'profits' before people, and for an end to the war in #Yemen. #StopArmingSaudi— CAAT Universities (@CAATunis) June 20, 2019
Email your MP to make the verdict count: https://t.co/sowvronO6J
With thanks & love to @TRCdocumentarypic.twitter.com/Dy6gRIZriU
As a result of the 4-year conflict, almost half of the population is facing starvation and more than 85,000 children have died from extreme hunger. Meanwhile, millions of people have had to leave their homes to find safety.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of states in a military camaign to restore Yemen's government. In the past three years, Saudi Arabia has reportedly become the world's largest importer of weapons — and the UK and the US are among the kingdom's top suppliers.
The UK alone has licensed more than £4.7 billion of arms exports to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began in March 2015, reported the BBC.
But the Court of Appeal ruling found that the UK had failed to adequately assess whether UK exports might be used to breech international humanitarian law in Yemen, and were therefore unlawful.
The ruling also found that it was unlawful for the UK to dismiss a wide range of evidence provided by UN bodies and human rights organisations.
As a result of the court ruling, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the government would no longer grant new licences for export to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the coalition, while the government considers the judgement.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly told the BBC that the government was “disappointed” and would be seeking permission to appeal the judgement.
According to the United Nations Association UK (UNA-UK), the ruling thoroughly discredits the UK’s claim to “operate one of the most robust defence export control regimes in the world.”
Lord Wood of Anfield, chair of UNA-UK, said that this is first and foremost a “victory for the Yemeni people who have suffered directly from what we now know to be the illegal transfer of UK weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
“The ruling makes a mockery of the UK’s claim to be a supporter of the international rules-based system and a champion of international peace and security,” he added. “It is unacceptable that it has taken a court case, brought by NGOs, to force the government to do what is morally and legally right.”
Lord Wood also called for a public inquiry to “find out how we got into this mess.”
He added: “The UK must immediately cancel all arms export licences and transfers of weapons which might be used in Yemen and end all assistance it is giving to parties to the conflict.”
In August 2017, Global Citizen joined forces with Save the Children to see Saudi Arabai and its allies called to account for killing and maiming children in Yemen — previously the only party to the conflict not to be named.
Within weeks, Global Citizens took over 18,000 actions, tweeting and signing the the petition calling on the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to list Saudi Arabia in the UN's Annual Children and Armed Conflict Report — a list of parties within the conflict that the UN has verified as being responsible for committing grave violations against children.
And our collective voice was heard. The report was released in October 2017, and explicitly outlined that the Saudi-led coalition's bombing of rebels in Yemen led to "the killing and maiming of children with 683 child casualties."