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Australia must immediately halt Saudi defence exports following landmark UK court decision: Save the Children

Court finds UK government decision to issue export licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia “wrong in law”
20 June 2019

Save the Children is calling on Australia to immediately suspend any export of military assets to Saudi Arabia after a UK court today found that the UK government’s decision to issue export licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia was “wrong in law in one significant respect”. 

The court found the government had failed to assess whether Saudi Arabia had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and “made no attempt to do so”. 

The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly been accused by the UN of committing shocking human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen’s civil war, which has been going more than four years. 

Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds said: “This decision by the UK courts should send a very strong message to the Australian Government that exporting arms and military equipment to countries accused of war crimes is wrong and must stop immediately. 

“It is abhorrent to think that Australian-made military assets could be fueling the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet – a crisis that has seen an estimated 85,000 children die of starvation and diseases, with hundreds more children killed or injured by foreign-made bombs.” 

The legal action was brought on by the NGO Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which argued that the UK government’s continued authorisation of arms exports to Saudi Arabia was in breach of the law given there was a “clear risk” the weapons might be used to commit violations of human rights or international humanitarian law in Yemen.

Countries including Finland, Norway, Denmark and Austria have already suspended their defence exports to Saudi Arabia due to concerns over the war in Yemen, as well as the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

“If the Australian Government cannot guarantee that Australian defence exports are not contributing to the war in Yemen, it must stop issuing licences immediately,” Mr Ronalds said. 

“This decision by the UK courts – from where Australia’s legal system is derived – casts a dark shadow over Australia’s military exports. Australia must do everything it can to prevent further atrocities in Yemen being carried out, and to ensure international humanitarian law is upheld.” 

The United Nations has found that parties to the conflict such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, may have committed war crimes including rape, torture and indiscriminate airstrikes that have killed civilians. 

Over 250 breaches of international humanitarian law have been reported in Yemen. In 2018 the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition was found responsible for 19 attacks on schools and 5 attacks on hospitals.  

“Australians are rightly alarmed to know that we could potentially be prolonging this war and the suffering of millions of children. This war needs to end with words, not weapons. That’s why we call on the Government to immediately halt all defence exports to the Saudi-led coalition,” Mr Ronalds said. 

Throughout 2019, it’s Centenary year, Save the Children is calling on the Australian Government to do more to Stop the War on Children, including for the children of Yemen by ending the export of Australian made military assets to Saudi Arabia. 

For media inquiries contact Evan Schuurman on 0406 117 937

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