London (GPA) – Just days before a U.K. high court is set to review the country’s sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a new poll has shown that a majority of citizens oppose it.
In a survey conducted over the last few days by British polling group Opinium, it was found that nearly sixty two percent of the 2,000 people polled opposed the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Out of the remaining thirty eight percent, only eleven percent were in favor of the arms sales.
The poll, commissioned by the advocacy group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), also found another positive when Saudi Arabia wasn’t specifically mentioned. Around seventy one percent, or nearly three out of four respondents, felt the U.K. shouldn’t sell arms to authoritarian regimes or countries that violate human rights.
Even though the Saudis obviously fall in this category, when they weren’t mentioned specifically, only six percent of people agreed with exporting arms to these countries. Only about a quarter of those polled felt that the U.K. should sell arms to any country who has the money.
The U.K. Arms Trade Controversy
The U.K. is a long time defense partner of Saudi Arabia, but the sale of weapons has increased since the beginning of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen in March 2015. Since the war in Yemen began, the U.K. has sold over £3.3 billion (about $4.1 billion) worth of weapons to the Wahhabi kingdom.
These munitions have been used to carry out what the whole world knows are war crimes. Even the United Nations (UN) has warned Saudi Arabia about their activities in Yemen, even as the Saudis chair the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The U.K. has helped them carry operations like this out via their unquestioned policy of selling them arms since the first helped create the kingdom after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. This includes the notorious cluster bombs used by Saudis on civilian areas despite this being against international law since 2008.
To be fair, the U.K. sold them the bombs in the 1980s but apparently they sat in storage until now and nobody talked to the Saudis about disposing of them. They may let the British off the hook a bit but the Saudis still stockpiled them, which is also against the Cluster Munitions Convention.
The British government knows their citizens are against arming the Saudis and now they have an even better idea thanks to this poll. They probably should’ve known before since there’s already cases of British citizens, such as the Quaker activist and a Methodist pastor facing ten years in prison, who have voiced their opposition by doing things like sabotaging weapons headed to Saudi Arabia.
The Legal Argument Against Saudi Arabia
It’s these factors that led to CAAT encourage the U.K.’s high court to review the arm sales and see if they’re legal under the laws of Britain and the European Union. In the meantime, CAAT has called on the Department for International Trade to stop the sales until the legality is determined.
CAAT spokesman Andrew Smith said “Whatever the verdict, it won’t be the end of the issue. [British Prime Minister Theresa] May and her colleagues must listen to the public and finally end their toxic military relationship with Saudi Arabia.” Amnesty International also commented on the case. James Lynch, Amnesty’s head of arms control told The Guardian that “The UK government’s repeated refusal to halt arms transfers beggars belief, given the extensive and credible reporting showing the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s ongoing serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.”
The evidence against Saudi Arabia is vast, making it hard to comprehend how the court could even be talking about possibly finding the arms sales legal. Yet, the government continues to stick to the line that all their arm sales are legal under international law. This is hard to believe if you know anything about the Saudis or their brutal war on Yemen.
It’s also unbelievable when you see that the U.K. is turning to making deals with increasingly controversial and authoritarian trading partners in preparation for the finalization of Brexit. Theresa May has even finalized new deals with known human rights violators, like the recent $125 million defense agreement with Turkey.
While we can’t be sure what the high court’s decision will be, but they did just recently rule against the wishes of the U.K.’s Conservative Party. The court did decide just last month, against the government leadership’s wishes when they decided that Parliament would need to vote on initiating article 50 of the EU charter to leave the organization. While this may be a good sign, it is probably unlikely, and it’s important to remember that the same elite members of British society who were against Brexit also have a vested interest in the long standing policy of protecting Saudi Arabia.
Only time will tell what the high court will decide, but at least if they do make the wrong decision, it’s now clear that advocacy groups along with regular citizens are ready to stand up against Saudi crimes. It’s good to know that there are at least U.K. citizens who will continue the fight to stop the spilling of blood all over the Middle East caused by western bombs and guns.
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James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.