The British government announced on Thursday (June 20th) the suspension of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen after a decision of the London Court of Appeal found them not in conformity with the law.
International Trade Minister Liam Fox announced the suspension in Parliament, but said the government would try to appeal. "In the meantime, we will not grant new licenses (of arms sales) to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that could be used in the conflict in Yemen," he added. .
Saudi Arabia has intervened militarily in neighboring Yemen since 2015, heading a regional coalition in support of pro-government forces opposed to Houthi rebels, backed by Iran.
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The London Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia by the United Kingdom in the context of the conflict in Yemen had been tainted by an "error of law over an important point".
The British executive "did not assess whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the conflict in Yemen, and did not even attempt to do so," Terence said. Etherton, President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.
"The government needs to reconsider the issue," he insisted. However, the judge also said that the ruling did not mean that "weapons export licenses to Saudi Arabia" should be "immediately suspended".
"Serious and Repeated Violations" of International Humanitarian Law
For Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, "the court decision is more about form than substance" and "no guilt was found".
"The licenses for arms sales (which have been granted) will continue" and the new licenses "will wait" until the UK government makes the "necessary changes to its procedures", he said at a press conference in London.
If arms sales stop, "the only beneficiary is going to be Iran," he said, stressing that his country "is fighting to prevent Iran from taking control of strategically important countries."
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British justice was seized in 2015 by an anti-arms trade organization, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which sought to suspend British sales of bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.
According to the NGO, the British government has committed "serious and repeated violations" of international humanitarian law by providing weapons to the Riyadh-led coalition.
The organization, which had appealed to the court of appeal after being dismissed in July 2017 by the London High Court, "welcomed" the judgment delivered Thursday. "This landmark ruling means that the government must now stop issuing new arms export licenses, suspend existing licenses and review all decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia," she said. in a statement.
"All other EU states should stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia"
The NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who supported the process, also welcomed. For HRW's Clive Baldwin, "all other EU states should immediately cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia".
Before the United Kingdom, Germany decided to freeze arms sales in Riyadh, following the assassination in October 2018 of Saudi journalist Adnan Khashoggi, critic of the regime, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul .
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France, for its part, refused. The government was also at the center of a media whirlwind in late April, when the site Disclose revealed that the weapons sold by Paris to Saudi Arabia were indeed used for offensives in the war in Yemen.
The French non-governmental organization Acat (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture) took advantage of the British decision to demand an immediate freeze on arms sales in Riyadh, saying that France must "ensure that it does not make itself complicit in the atrocities committed against the civilian population in Yemen ".