Leading lawyers find UK Government to be breaking the law supplying arms to Saudi
16 December 2015
In today's legal opinion commissioned by Saferworld and Amnesty International, eminent international law experts Professor Philippe Sands QC, Professor Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers affirm that the UK Government is breaking national, EU and international law and policy by supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia in the context of its military intervention and bombing campaign in Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has turned the country into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, more than 5,800 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded. Civilian targets including hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a displaced persons camp have been hit in airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition forces, while Houthi and Saleh forces stand accused of indiscriminate shelling in residential areas and numerous human rights abuses.
The legal opinion found that the UK Government is acting in breach of its obligations arising under the UK’s Consolidated Criteria on arms exports, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the Arms Trade Treaty by continuing to authorise transfers of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia within the scope of those instruments, capable of being used in Yemen.
The opinion also concludes that the UK Government can properly be deemed to have "actual knowledge... of the use by Saudi Arabia of weapons, including UK-supplied weapons, in attacks directed against civilians and civilians objects, in violation of international law", since at least May 2015.
Although the focus of their opinion was on the UK Government’s legal obligations regarding the authorisation regime for weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia, the lawyers underscored that all sides to the conflict in Yemen are accused of serious breaches of international law.
Saferworld calls on the Government to:
- Immediately suspend arms transfers and military support to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which could be used to commit or facilitate further serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen.
- Carry out a thorough and independent investigation into UK arms sales and reported war crimes in Yemen
- Make every possible diplomatic effort to help bring the conflict to an end.
- Continue to push for an end to the de facto blockade so that vital humanitarian and commercial supplies enter Yemen and reach those most in need.
- Fully implement the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty, and encourage all other arms exporters to do the same.
Watch Channel 4 News and BBC Newsnight coverage of the legal opinion: