The UK is a major supplier of weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – in fact, it is widely accepted that the Saudi-UAE-led coalition could not conduct its air campaign in Yemen without the UK's support. All arms sales are made under licenses issued by the Secretary of State for International Trade, who is required by law to make decisions against the UK’s Consolidated EU and National Arms Sales Criteria. Under these criteria, the government must refuse to grant a license if there is a “clear risk” that the weapon might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
The UK-based organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade secured a historic victory in 2019 after their challenge to continued arms sales was successful on appeal. As a result of the court’s order quashing the government’s licensing decisions the UK government has to make a fresh decision on whether to licence more arms export to Saudi Arabia. This provides a chance a chance for civil society to convince the UK government to comply with its obligations under national and international law, and suspend arms exports.
For more information on the CAAT case, see CAAT's website, or read this post on Just Security by Dearbhla Minogue and Kristine Beckerle of GLAN and Yemen's leading human rights organisation, Mwatana. See also this article by Admas Habteslasie of Landmark Chambers, who advised GLAN and Mwatana on our submission to the Secretary of State.
Sample image from submission detailing the aftermath of an airstrike on a residential compound for agricultural engineers in Sana'a governorate, Yemen on 14 September 2015
On 11 August 2019, GLAN and Mwatana submitted substantial information directly to the UK's Secretary of State for International Trade, along with a legal letter from our solicitors setting out why the case for the immediate suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The objective was to ensure that this submission gave the government everything it needed to accurately assess the risk of future violations – in particular by providing detailed witness evidence and comprehensive photographic documentation of attack sites and munition remnants.
The culmination of months of close work between GLAN and Mwatana, the information addressed specific patterns of attack and failings by the Coalition’s accountability mechanism, the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT). In particular, it highlighted many instances in which, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary, JIAT concluded that the Coalition had not attacked the locations in question. No decision has yet been communicated to us by the Secretary of State.
Publication of evidence
Over nine months after GLAN and Mwatana submitted this information to the Secretary of State for International Trade, no new arms licensing decisions have been made. To illustrate the need for scrutiny of the government's actions, GLAN and Mwatana released the information on 19 May 2020, in conjunction with a call for the urgent instatement of a full Parliamentary Select Committee on arms licensing. Read the op-ed on Open Democracy by Mwatana’s Bonyan Jamal and GLAN’s Dearbhla Minogue here.
To assist with the proper analysis of the evidence against international legal standards, GLAN also released an international humanitarian law (IHL) overview. This document introduces the core principles of IHL and applies them to the detailed evidence compiled by our organisations.
All of the documents can be downloaded from the documents section of this page.