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Country Risk

UK sees improved Saudi targeting in Yemen

12 July 2017

The Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF’s) pre-planned targeting during its operations in Yemen complies with NATO standards. However, its dynamic targeting has not always been up to the same level, according to a UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) assessment that emerged during a legal case, which ultimately ruled that the UK government has not broken the law by continuing to authorise defence exports to Saudi Arabia.

One of the RSAF's UK-made Typhoon multirole fighters takes off during a joint exercise in Sudan in April. A freeze on exports to Saudi Arabia would have a significant impact on its defence industry. (Saudi Press Agency)One of the RSAF's UK-made Typhoon multirole fighters takes off during a joint exercise in Sudan in April. A freeze on exports to Saudi Arabia would have a significant impact on its defence industry. (Saudi Press Agency)

The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which used non-governmental organisation (NGO), European Parliament, and UN reports to argue that there is overwhelming evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly carried out indiscriminate or deliberate airstrikes against civilians since launching its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015. This, it argued, means that the UK government is clearly breaching legislation stating that defence exports must be stopped when there is a clear risk that they might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL).

In its judgement document, the High Court of Justice conceded that the CAAT’s case was supported by a “substantial body of evidence suggesting the coalition has committed serious breaches” of IHL, but cautioned that the open-source reporting only showed part of the picture.

It noted that government agencies have access to a “much wider range of information upon which to base their assessment” than NGOs and is carrying out a “rigorous and robust, multilayered process of analysis” of potential IHL violations in Yemen.

This process includes the MoD maintaining a database of potential violations called the Tracker, which informs the regular IHL updates that the Foreign Office provides to the secretary of state for international trade, who is ultimately responsible for approving defence exports.

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