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UK Saudi Arms Export Ruling May Spur Wider Shunning of Poor Human Rights Records

© AP Photo / Hani MohammedPeople inspect a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017
People inspect a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 - Sputnik International
The UK court ruling allowing the country to continue exporting arms to Saudi Arabia is likely to encourage other EU member states to sell arms to countries with poor human rights records, peace activists told Sputnik on Tuesday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — On Monday, the UK High Court announced its ruling on the Judicial Review launched by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) into the UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, stating that the sales were legal and could continue despite the concern over numbers of civilian deaths in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen.

"The judgment of the High Court can have serious implications, not only in allowing the British government to continue arming Saudi Arabia, but this case will probably be used by other EU governments to legitimate new arms export licenses to countries with very bad reputations of human rights violations in which EU arms are often used," Ludo De Brabander, the spokesman for the Belgian Vrede peace movement, said.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (R) and Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) meet ahead of G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. - Sputnik International
Campaigners React as High Court Says UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia Are Lawful
In his view, this ruling was morally and politically unacceptable as well as in breach of the EU Common Position On Arms Export, which states that an export license should be refused if there is a clear risk that the weapons can be used for acts that violate international law.

The spokesman also added that the United Kingdom was not the only European country that did not abide by the EU arms trade rules selling arms to Saudi Arabia, with the latter suspected of terror financing and waging proxy wars in Syria.

"Among other important arms exporters are France, Spain, Italy and Belgium. Moreover, according to the last annual EU report 2015, Saudi Arabia is the most important destination for European arms in the world. Saudi Arabia is also suspected of financing and arming extremist proxies in Syria that are accused of several violations of humanitarian law and of terrorist acts. This is in contradiction with the so called 'war against terrorism' in which several European countries are deeply involved," De Brabander underlined.

A detainee from Afghanistan is led by military police with his hands chained at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in this Feb. 2, 2002, file photo - Sputnik International
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In May 2016, Amnesty International reported evidence of UK-made cluster munitions being used by Saudi forces in Yemen. The use of such weapons is a violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which the United Kingdom helped draft and negotiate in 2008. CAAT joined the accusations, claiming that UK-made munitions have been used by the Arab nation to kill civilians in Yemen. According to the latest report of the organization, the United Kingdom sold almost 3.3 billion UK pounds ($4.2 billion) of arms to Riyadh since the beginning of  the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in March 2015.

De Brabander stated he believed there was enough evidence to suspect Saudi Arabia of committing war crimes in Yemen since the start of its military operation in March 2015, calling the UK High Court decision "political hypocrisy."

Iain Overton, the executive director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), stated that AOAV found 83 percent of the civilians killed and injured in airstrikes in Yemen being in populated areas, such as schools, homes, markets and hospitals and agreed that there was sufficient evidence to recognize the arms sales as unlawful.

"Our data is clear. Yemeni civilians have been repeatedly killed by Saudi bombs. The UK and other governments should end their unethical supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia," Overton told Sputnik.

According to Overton, the ruling will encourage the government to continue selling arms to the conflict zones, including to Saudi Arabia, which are likely to continue to devastate civilian lives in Yemen.

"AOAV called upon states to recognize the civilian impact of explosive weapons with wide-area impacts, and to stop using such weapons in populated areas. AOAV encourages all states supplying arms to Saudi Arabia to suspend these sales until proper investigations have been conducted and such attacks cease to occur," AOAV executive director said.

Yemen has been suffering from a brutal conflict between the government and the Houthi movement backed by army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2014. In March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Persian Gulf countries started carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis at the request of the Yemeni authorities.

According to the latest UN data, the total number of documented civilian deaths in the Yemeni war makes almost 5,000 people, with over 8,500 civilians injured. The UN Human Rights Office warned that the actual number of civilians killed in the conflict may be "considerably higher."

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