An activist group wants to halt the transfer of British weapons to the kingdom citing concerns that they will be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

The British government is facing a new obstacle in its long struggle to sell arms to Saudi Arabia with an activist group filing for a judicial review to stop the sales.

For years, human rights defenders have lobbied the UK to stop its military support to the kingdom over its disastrous war in Yemen, which has left tens of thousands dead, destroyed the country’s infrastructure, and resulted in widespread hunger and disease.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says that UK military hardware is being used to endanger the lives of Yemeni civilians.

Activists scored their first major victory in June 2019 when a court ruled that ministers had acted unlawfully when they approved the export of weapons to Riyadh.

Judges presiding over the case said that the government had failed to adequately assess the risks posed to civilians posed by the armaments and force officials to launch a review into the legality of billions of pounds worth of Saudi purchases.

In the interim, the UK suspended the issue of export licenses for weapons to Saudi Arabia.

However, the government was forced to apologise less than three months later after reports emerged that it had illegally transferred parts to be used in armaments despite the court ruling.

British officials decided to resume sales of armaments to Saudi Arabia just over a year after the court ruling, in July this year.

That was after a review by the Department of International Trade, which concluded that any violations of international law by the Saudis were ‘isolated incidents’.

CAAT has criticised the government for lack of transparency over how it reached that conclusion, given that Saudi Arabia has not been responsible for just ‘isolated’ attacks on civilians but hundreds of documented bombings on school children, weddings, funerals, markets, and hospitals administered by international aid organisations.

Andrew Smith, a spokesman for CAAT, says: “The government may think that the widespread destruction of schools, hospitals and homes can be dismissed as ‘isolated incidents’ but we do not. These arms sales are immoral, and we are confident that the Court will confirm that the decision to renew them was illegal.”

A money first approach?

The UK’s own export regulations prohibit the export of arms to countries that are engaged in violations of international law.

Saudi Arabia has also been condemned by the UN for its conduct in Yemen and officials with the organisation believe there is a ‘clear’ risk that weapons transferred to the Saudis will be used against civilians.

Lawyers filing the latest judicial review believe that there is enough recent past precedent to ensure the sales of arms are blocked.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been the driving force behind Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen.

Initially marketed as a quick incursion against Houthi rebels who have captured most of the country in a 2014 offensive, the war has turned into a brutal stalemate and campaign of attrition that has done little to turn the tide against the Houthis but has come at huge cost to Yemen’s civilians.

While political opinion in Western capitals has turned decisively against the Saudi-led war, the UK, France, and the US under the Trump administration have continued to support the effort.

In the aftermath of the Khashoggi killing in October 2018, it was revealed that the UK was lobbying other European countries to get them to drop their own sanctions against Riyadh.

According to CAAT, the UK has sold 5.4 billion pounds ($7 billion) worth of armaments to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

Source: TRT World