Remnant of a UK-produced missile found at the location of an air strike at Radfan Ceramics Factory, west of Sanaa, Yemen, on September 23, 2015.

© 2015 Ali Muhammad al-Sawari

(London) – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and RW UK have received permission to intervene in a court case challenging the United Kingdom’s continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal in April 2019.

The landmark legal case, brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), seeks to establish that the UK government is breaking its own arms export licensing criteria by continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, given the clear risk the weapons would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law violations in Yemen. The High Court in London dismissed the case in 2017, but the Campaign Against Arms trade won the right to appeal, and the three groups again received permission to intervene.

“The October 2 murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate only highlights the government’s lack of credible investigations and accountability demonstrated during the years-long Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The UK has contributed through its arms sales to a campaign that has killed or wounded thousands of civilians and brought the country to the brink of disaster.”

Since the coalition began its aerial campaign in Yemen in 2015, the UK has licensed at least £4.7 billion (about US$6.1 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch researchers have regularly visited Yemen and documented the use of weapons, including weapons made in the UK, in strikes that appear to be unlawful. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN, and Yemeni rights groups have repeatedly documented attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, some of which are most likely war crimes, that have hit markets, schools, hospitals, and homes, and killed thousands of civilians.

Since 2016, Human Rights Watch has called for all countries to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the Saudi-led coalition ends its unlawful attacks and credibly investigates those that have already occurred. A growing number of European countries have halted sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. On October 25, the European Parliament called for a common EU position banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, violations in Yemen continue. On August 9, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 26 children and wounded at least 19 more in or near a school bus in the busy Dhahyan market, in northern Yemen. The United Nations reported that on October 24, the coalition struck a vegetable packaging facility and killed 21 civilians, the latest in a series of attacks on civilian structures and yet another blow to the country’s precarious economy. The Houthi armed group, which controls much of the northern Yemen and is the target of the Saudi-led coalition’s attacks, has also committed serious violations of the laws of war, including laying antipersonnel landmines, recruiting children, and taking civilians hostage and torturing them.

“The UK should not wait for the court hearing to finally stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Baldwin said. “It should stop selling weapons now until Saudi Arabia ends unlawful attacks and holds war criminals accountable.”