The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that the sale of UK arms being used by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen are unlawful. The Campaign Against Arms Trade began this case three years ago. Oxfam has supported it as an intervenor, providing witness testimony about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and expert evidence about the protection of civilians under International Humanitarian Law.
This is more than just some legal wrangle in London.
Calling for peace while selling weapons that allow Saudi Arabia to continue bombing Yemen is an utter hypocrisy that is having deadly consequences for the people of Yemen. This Appeal Court ruling is a victory for them.
The suffering of people of Yemen is getting worse as the fighting and bombing continues.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees says there have been more than 17,000 verified civilian deaths and injuries during the war.
The number of incidents in which children have been killed or injured have more than tripled between the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of this year.
Every month there are around 600 strikes against civilian infrastructure, with more than 100 hospitals, health facilities and schools hit just last year alone. These are war crimes.
Photo: Airstrike destruction of civilian houses in Sana'a, Yemen. Credit: Bassam Al-Thulaya/Oxfam
The effects of four years of war
More than 3.3 million Yemenis have been displaced, 10 million are on the brink of famine and 24 million need aid. The world’s worst cholera outbreak in happening in Yemen. All this is being caused by four years of war being fuelled by arms sold from outside Yemen including those by British companies.
The court rules that the British government should have suspended its sales as soon as the scale of war crimes and human rights abuses became clear. In refusing to assess the scale of attacks on civilians, the court says the UK government rendered its export licensing process unlawful.
These arms are a 'clear risk'
The ruling hinged on the definition of “clear risk”, the words in the consolidated criteria that the government uses to assess its decisions to grant arms exports.
Was there a “clear risk” that Saudi Arabia would use UK arms to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure? Even after multiple attacks on hospitals, markets, mosques, and aid projects including several Oxfam water projects, the UK government deliberately made no attempt to determine whether there had been a pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law, which should have informed them about the likelihood of future violations.
The British government has ignored years of such warnings and evidence. Why? Because the UK government has licensed over £4.7 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since they went to war in Yemen, with unknown amounts of bombs additionally being sold through secretive “open licenses.”
Ibrahim, 43, and his children fled the fighting in Hajjah governorate, and now live in a one-room house made of wood and threadbare cloths, with no access to food, water, education, or health services. One of Ibrahim’s children died from cholera infection. Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Conflict causes poverty
In Oxfam’s experience, we need to tackle the root causes that keep people locked into cycles of poverty and suffering in order to have a truly lasting impact on their lives. We not only deliver life-saving water and aid to people affected by the conflict in Yemen, we’re also doing everything possible to end the conflict as soon as possible.
This ruling offers real hope for the people of Yemen.
The British government must now immediately halt its arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and create a new process for licensing arms exports. This must comply with the UK’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, the EU Common Position on Arms and its own domestic law to uphold human rights.
An international trend
This win is part of an international trend. Just last week the Belgian Council of State, their highest court, ruled that continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia are illegal, forcing changes in Belgian arms licensing procedures.
Germany has suspended some sales to Saudi Arabia.
The US Congress has voted repeatedly to end weapons transfers to fuel the war in Yemen, however the Trump administration has overruled it.
The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have all suspended transfers to Saudi Arabia. A legal case is being prepared in Spain.
These legal processes are slow but they are beginning to force governments to do what they should have done voluntarily years ago – stop selling arms that are fuelling a terrible war in Yemen and killing women, men and children every day.
This entry posted on 19 November 2018, by Martin Butcher, Oxfam's Policy Advisor on Arms and Conflict.
Photos: Airstrike destruction of civilian houses in Sana'a, Yemen. Credit: Bassam Al-Thulaya/Oxfam