U.K. Resumes Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, a Day After Sanctioning Its Officials for Murder
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, pictured leaving 10 Downing Street on … [+]
Just a day after the U.K. announced sanctions against 20 Saudi officials for murdering the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the London government says it will once again start issuing arms export licenses to the Middle East country.
In a written statement to parliament on July 7, secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss said there is no “clear risk” that military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia might be used in serious human rights abuses and so the trade can resume.
The government had suspended the issuing of export licenses in June last year, when the Court of Appeal ruled it had acted unlawfully because it had not been making a proper assessment of the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen and whether there had been a pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law.
Despite the commitment to block any new export licenses, the government has admitted to several breaches of this undertaking since last June. Exports under existing export licenses had also continued.
The government says it has now developed a revised methodology to assess arms export licenses which, it claims, is more rigorous and addresses the points raised by the Court of Appeal. However, having reviewed “all credible incidents of concern” regarding Saudi actions in Yemen, the U.K. says it found no “patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses” in the Saudi-led coalition’s actions.
It is not clear how wide-ranging the review conducted by the U.K. government was, or how many incidents were examined. The Yemen Data Project, an independent group which tracks the actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, says that since March 2015 there have been at least 21,147 air raids by the coalition – and possibly as many as 60,405 – which between them caused 8,703 civilian deaths and a further 9,764 injuries.
“The incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of [international humanitarian law] occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents,” said Truss in her written statement.
As a result of this conclusion, Truss has cleared the way for a resumption of new export licenses to Saudi Arabia for arms or military equipment that could be used in Yemen. The government also now intends to start clearing a “backlog” of applications that has built up since June last year, a process which it says could take several months.
Right at the end of her statement, Truss also said the government now plans to withdraw an appeal it was making to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) condemned the resumption of export licenses and said it is considering what further legal steps it might take. Andrew Smith of the campaigning group called it a “morally bankrupt decision” and added “The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals and market places.”
According to CAAT, since the Saudi campaign in Yemen began in Mach 2015, the UK has sold some £5.3 billion ($6.7 billion) worth of arms to Riyadh.