In recent weeks we’ve seen the British government told by the courts to let Parliament vote on the process of leaving the EU – something that should have been obvious in a parliamentary democracy. This week they have been court over another issue that ought to be obvious: arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Under the terms of the international Arms Trade Treaty, which Britain ratified in 2014, no state can authorise arms transfers to a country where they could be used “in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party.”
Saudi Arabia and its partners have repeatedly targeted civilians in Yemen, with several agencies proving that British-made bombs have been used. There was a story in the papers just this week about the bombing of a funeral. Thousands of civilians have been killed, millions have been displaced, and half the country is struggling to put food on the table.
Britain has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia for years, and the government has been on morally dubious territory before – ten years ago Tony Blair personally pulled the plug on a serious fraud case in order to protect an arms deal. We face a similar situation today. Groups like Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Save the Children and Amnesty have shown repeatedly than Britain is in breach of the arms treaty, but sales have continued. £3.3 billion of weapons have been shipped since the conflict began. The evidence was sufficient for the EU to stop arms shipments to Saudi Arabia. It was enough for Obama to halt US sales, though predictably, the Trump has no such qualms. Britain has carried on regardless.
Much like that fraud case, the government has responded to these allegations by refusing to look into them. It’s a policy of deliberate denial that saves the historic connections with the Saudi royal family, protects British arms companies, and turns a blind eye to atrocity.
So this week the High Court is looking into it. The case is being heard over three days, though it may take weeks to reach a decision. If they rule against the government, it will be a landmark case and a major victory against the powerful and deeply entrenched interests of the arms companies.
If you want to follow proceedings, you can do so on the CAAT twitter feed.