UK to resume issuing Saudi Arabia arms export licenses

Licensing had been suspended last year after a British court ruled that the government violated British law by selling arms without examining whether the weapons may be used to harm noncombatants.

al-monitor Amnesty International activists march with homemade replica missiles bearing the message "Made in Britain, destroying lives in Yemen," across Westminster Bridge toward Downing Street during a protest over UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia on March 18, 2016, in London, England. Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images.

Jul 8, 2020

The British government can legally resume issuing licenses to export weapons to Saudi Arabia, the country’s trade minister said yesterday.

Licensing was suspended last year after a court ruled that the government violated British law by covertly selling arms to Riyadh without duly examining whether the weapons may be used to harm noncombatants.

The ruling came after a rights group presented evidence that the weapons posed a clear risk to civilians in Yemen’s civil war.

UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss said Tuesday that the licensing process had been adjusted to comply with the ruling and licensing would continue.

In a letter to the British Parliament, Truss wrote that the specified cases of Saudi Arabia's alleged violation of international humanitarian law were “isolated incidents.” The Saudi-led coalition has serially misrepresented incidents of civilian casualties in Yemen.

Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which brought the suit against the government, called the decision to resume arms sales “disgraceful and morally bankrupt.”

“The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing,” Smith said, according to Reuters.

Smith also said his organization will consult its lawyers about the decision and “will be exploring all options available to challenge it.” Britain’s opposition Labor Party also slammed the decision.

The announcement came only a day after the British government announced it would sanction 20 Saudi individuals accused by Turkey of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.

The sanctions included Saud al-Qahtani, former adviser to Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the former deputy chief of Saudi’s General Intelligence Directorate, Ahmed Asiri.

Labor Party representative Emily Thornberry said the decision marked “at the very least a case of mixed messages, undermining the government’s claim to be human rights defenders,” according to The New York Times.

Similar criticisms have been levied at the United States government. The Donald Trump administration has signaled its intent to continue arming Saudi Arabia while Congress is renewing its opposition.

Riyadh is among the top buyers of British weapons. The UK has licensed at least $5.9 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Yemen civil war in 2015.

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