It's Time to Support Legal Action to Stop Arming Saudi Arabia

08/01/2016 08:38 | Updated 08 January 2016

As another day goes by in the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, news reports told of air-strikes hitting a community centre for blind people. The unlawful bombings by Saudi Arabia, backed by her Gulf allies and the United Nations Security Council, have been described by Amnesty International as deliberately targeting civilian populations, particularly schools, which have put thousands of children out of education in a clear breach of international humanitarian law.

Previous reports on the conflict have raised concerns about Saudi Arabia dropping cluster bombs, indiscriminately killing children, and leading to what the International Red Cross have dubbed a "humanitarian catastrophe."

BBC News Night recently led on a story detailing Campaign Against The Arms Trade's (CAAT) potential legal action against the government over the supply of UK military equipment. Indeed, the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) clearly states that weapons should not be sold to countries if there is a potential that the arms or items could be used to facilitate a serious violation of human rights.

The facts on the ground in Yemen demonstrate that bombing is unlawful and indiscriminate, disproportionately affecting the civilian population and undermining humanitarian operations by international aid organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The SNP recently joined calls to stop arming Saudi Arabia, following their New Year's execution of 47 people in one day.

Our mutual economic relationship makes us complicit in the systematic abuses taking place, our government deliberately turning a blind eye because the authoritarian Gulf regime is the UK's biggest arms export market - and the arms trade is good business for a corporate elite who yield huge profits from death and destruction on a massive scale.

When we consider Saudi Arabia's approach to human rights domestically the picture becomes even bleaker, authorities stamping out freedom of speech, expression or belief outside of Wahhabi Islam, and regularly imprisoning opponents without trial. Take for example the Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for publishing material considered anti-Islamic. Homosexuality, lesbianism, and behaviours deemed gender inappropriate are branded a crime, punishable by torture and execution - often by way of beheading.

In 2013, a report released by the European Parliament identified Saudi-Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism, estimating over $10bn had been funnelled to terrorist groups in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Mali and Indonesia through charitable foundations. One of the lead authors of the 9/11 commission, Senator Bob Graham, has openly stated that ISIS are 'a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money, and Saudi organisational support."

With such a huge amount of evidence pointing to Saudi Arabia as being the biggest sponsor of global terrorism, why is it that successive UK governments continue to support a rogue state while warning of decades long counter-terror operations? A state which is engineering international instability and an increasingly more dangerous world?

At a time when our civil liberties are gradually being eroded in the name of national security, and in the name of protecting the public from terrorist attacks, there is a much needed debate about how we choose our allies, and about creating a coherent strategy in alleviating our world from the 'Global War on Terror.' How can we claim to be a country that supports equality, diversity and freedom of speech when we continue with this inherently hypocritical trade relationship; a trade relationship which is facilitating such huge loss of life in Yemen and other Middle Eastern states?

The final point we need to put across is simple: torture, injustice, indiscriminate bombings, executions - how can we possibly ally ourselves so closely with a repressive authoritarian regime that has so little respect for human life and diversity - both domestically and internationally? As UK citizens it's important we stand in solidarity with CAAT's legal action, lending our signatures to their online petition, and lobbying our MPs to take a stand in the commons. It is clear, now more than ever, that the UK has to review this destructive trade relationship. It's time for the UK to #StopArmingSaudi.