UK’s Saudi arms sales violate humanitarian law, campaigners say

Caitlin Logan

Demo at Saudi Arabian embassy will protest UK arms sales amid humanitarian crisis

CAMPAIGN AGAINST ARMS TRADE (CAAT) will hold a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London on 3 February in opposition to the UK Government’s continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia which are being used in its war against Yemen.

The UK has sold over £4.7bn worth of weapons to the Saudi Arabian regime since the war started in March 2015. The UN has described the conflict as a humanitarian crisis and that Saudi Arabia breached international law with airstrikes in Yemen.

The UK Government recently committed £50m in Aid to Yemen and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt agreed that Saudi Arabia was “in breach of international humanitarian law”.

READ MORE: Human rights groups urge Theresa May to cancel visit of Saudi Crown Prince

However, campaigners say that by continuing arms sales to the regime, the UK Government is in breach of the law itself.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Kate Nevans, a member of the Edinburgh CAAT group said: “UK sales to Saudi Arabia are against our own laws, against EU law, and against international law.

“The law states that we shouldn’t export arms where there is a risk they would be used in violation of international humanitarian law, which these are.

“These arms are used not only on their own people but in the war on Yemen. The war they’re waging is breaking international humanitarian law – they’re bombing civilians, factories, schools, funerals, and large numbers of civilians are dying.”

Nevans said that, far from responding to the war by decreasing its sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the UK Government had increased its sales and reduced the time it takes to get an export licence for Saudi Arabia.

Nevans was clear that the campaigners were not “taking sides in the war”, given that the Yemeni Houthi rebels have also committed human rights violations, but that the focus was on the fact that Saudi Arabia is the party to which the UK Government is selling arms.

“Yemenis have been getting serial numbers from the bombs and we know that some are manufactured in Scotland.” Kate Nevans, Edinburgh CAAT

There is evidence, Nevans said, that Scottish jobs are directly involved in the production of arms being sold to Saudi Arabia.

She explained: “It’s difficult to trace the bombs in Yemen back to the source but Yemenis have been getting some serial numbers from the bombs and we know that some are being manufactured in Scotland – including ones being used on schools – in the Raytheon Factory in Glenrothes.

“They’re manufacturing the mother boards for the smart bombs.”

While the arms trade is a reserved issue, Nevans said that the the Scottish Government and parliamentarians could play a role in addressing the issue.

“The SNP group at Westminster have been really good at raising concerns on this, so there is a role for Scotland’s MPs,” she said.

“Nicola Sturgeon could also write to Liam Fox about the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is contrary to UK law.”

There are also ways, she said, to “make sure we are not supporting manufacturers of these weapons in Scotland”.

READ MORE: Committee of MPs demand an end to UK arms sales to ‘war criminal’ Saudi Arabia

An important step, she said, would be to withdraw all investment of public funds from the arms trade. “The Scottish Government invests in the arm trade in a number of ways – pension funds are invested in the arms trade, for example,” Nevans said.

“Another is that we can transfer arms jobs in Scotland into jobs in the renewable energy sector.”

The issue of transitioning jobs away from arms manufacturing is one which Edinburgh CAAT will be raising directly with MSPs later this month in the Scottish Parliament.

Nevans added: “There are two layers to this: firstly, all parties but the Tories have put in their manifestos that they would end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The second layer is ending the arms trade as a whole, and Scotland can play a role in both.”

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s protest, London CAAT member Ian Pocock said: “The UK Government is complicit in the death and destruction of Yemen through the billions of pounds of weapons it has sold to Saudi Arabia, and its continued support for such an oppressive regime. These sales need to cease immediately.

“The people of Yemen desperately need this war to end and our government should not be contributing to its continuation.”

Responding to criticisms of the sales to Saudia Arabia, a UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government takes its export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, and have suspended or revoked licences when the level of risk changes.”

CAAT took legal action against the government to try to force them to end their arms sales to Saudi Arabia which failed in the high court last year.

The demonstration will take place from 3-5pm on Saturday 3 February at the Saudi Arabian embassy, 30 Charles Street, London.

Picture courtesy of  Picture courtesy of Number 10

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