At the end of June, the University of Glasgow decided to retain the bulk of its £3 million worth of investments in some of the world’s largest arms companies, including BAE Systems, Airbus and Boeing.
The decision to keep profiting from the arms trade was made despite a fierce campaign by the student group Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC) and concerned members of the community. As has been pointed out again and again, weapons produced by the huge arms companies that the University has chosen to invest in have been linked to serious war crimes across the world. The University has publicly proclaimed that ‘#BlackLivesMatter’, but it has refused to accept that the bombs it profits from have been used to kill people around the world.
At a time when millions of people across the world are concerned about food supplies and the ability of our health systems to respond to crisis, we must keep up the pressure for peace in Yemen, a country whose fragile health system has been devastated by five years of war.
This is a war supported by the UK government, with UK-based arms companies profiting from the destruction. Now more than ever, it is time for peace.
At the time of writing in early April, there are new reports of Saudi forces declaring a two week ceasefire. This is the second ceasefire to be reported in as many weeks – but we still have to still hope this one holds and is taken up by other parties to the conflict. The UK and other arms dealing governments can play their part by finally ending their arms sales and support for the continuing bombardment.
We hope all CAAT’s supporters are well and keeping safe. A lot of CAAT’s work will be evolving over the coming months as we adapt to the current crisis. Staff are working remotely, local group meetings and activities are moving online, and we’re looking at how Covid-19 interlinks with our different areas of work.
Some parts of the arms trade are on hold too. The biennial arms fair at Farnborough, where weapons were due to be promoted to military buyers from around the world, has already been cancelled. But in other areas it’s important we maintain our scrutiny.
Increase in state powers and policing
From ramped up surveillance of citizens in China and Singapore to accusations of a racist, politicised response in Sri Lanka, governments globally are responding with measures that some fear could outlast the pandemic, and further harm marginalised groups.
The UK Government’s COVID-19 Bill contains powers lasting two years which give police new rights to detain people. While this may make some feel safer, it’s a worrying move while people of colour are already subjected to disproportionate levels of detention and state violence in the UK. Read more about the new laws.
As yet there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 within Yemen, but five long years of catastrophic war have destroyed its healthcare system. Ahmed Aidarous, 36, a resident of the southwestern city of Taiz, told the Middle East Eye, “Advanced countries like America are unable to fight coronavirus so Yemen will be an easy victim for corona as there is no good health system or good leadership that can help.”
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government has closed schools and cancelled all flights, which had only just resumed for people who needed to leave the country to access healthcare abroad. Mwatana for Human Rights reports that at least 45 people had already lost their lives waiting for promised humanitarian flights to access healthcare.
We took action this month to mark five years of war in Yemen, and stand together in solidarity and resistance. While coronavirus means there is a risk that the war is forgotten, it’s as important as ever that we keep up the pressure for peace and end UK arms sales.
The first case of Covid-19 has been diagnosed at Yarl’s Wood, the immigration detention Centre in Bedford which holds survivors of torture and sexual violence, and where racist verbal, physical and sexual abuse have been reported. Already experiencing high levels of mental distress and self harm, now detainees face the risk of infection by Covid-19.
The Centre is run by the world’s 73rd largest arms company Serco Group, who work closely with the UK military sector, winning £92m of Ministry of Defence contracts in 2018. A legal case related to the health crisis forced the Government to release 300 detainees recently, but thousands remain detained across the UK. There have been over 30 deaths reported in UK immigration centres, and thousands of attempted suicides.
CAAT is developing its thinking around UK borders policy, as the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration strategy is part of a wider racist, state sponsored violence that keeps weapons flowing to countries where they predominantly harm people of colour.
It is also some of the same arms companies profiting from weapons sales causing many to flee their homes which profit again when they win lucrative contracts to provide security services and surveillance technologies at increasingly militarised borders. Find out more about the companies profiting twice.
Arms to ventilators?
In these turbulent and challenging times we will be looking for hope too – that in future when governments tell us things can’t change, we know that change can come almost overnight when the political will is there.
Rolls Royce, who produce military aircraft engines, and aerospace companies like Airbus which profit from the sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, have been called on by the UK government to help produce components for ventilators in the fight against coronavirus. The case for moving our engineering skills from industries that take lives to ones that save them has never been stronger.
Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, recently called government economic stimulus packages in response to the coronavirus crisis as “a historic opportunity” to tackle the climate emergency. “This is a huge opportunity we cannot miss,” he said. “Here the issue is not only the level of money but the direction of the money”.
Find out more about the call to convert jobs in arms manufacturing to greener, more socially useful industries in the New Lucas Plan.
We can also see more than ever that our security is not advanced by wars, or by spending billions on nuclear weapons systems and aircraft carriers, but by building fairer societies that support the most vulnerable, and by investing in our public services like the NHS and social care.
Let’s work together to ensure that out of this crisis we create a Just Recovery, and build a world where real human needs, are prioritised.
Journalist and researcher Phil Miller has just released a new book, Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes, which explores the shameful role of mercenaries in fuelling war and human rights abuses.
Profiting from war is one of the most controversial aspects of UK foreign policy. The debate normally centres on why British bombs are being sold to a belligerent ally. However, the arms industry will always defend its business on the grounds that its staff never pull the trigger, and that any subsequent casualties are therefore not its responsibility. Or as the chairman of Britain’s largest arms dealer, BAE Systems, modestly told shareholders in 2019: ‘[We] provide defence equipment that ultimately encourages peace.’
Security and Policing is an annual event organised by the UK government’s Home Office and the arms industry trade body, ADS. The event is a place where arms, border, policing and surveillance companies work and exhibit equipment and technologies together. Government delegations from across the world are invited by the the government’s arms sales unit, Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), and so the fair is an opportunity for relationships to be built and developed between these industries that work so closely together, but also with governments and states.
Thank you for every petition you signed, every gift you gave, every action you took part in this year. Here are some of the year’s highlights in our fight together for a more just and peaceful world.
Reasons to feel hopeful in 2020
1. CAAT win at the Court of Appeal
On 20 June, CAAT won its appeal against the UK government’s decision to license the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful‘ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place.
As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law. It has stopped issuing new arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, for use in Yemen
The Government is appealing the Court’s decision, so we will bring you news when we have it. In the meantime, 57 applications for export licences under consideration at the time of the ruling mean hundreds of millions of pounds of arms sales remain on hold, and a new £10 billion deal for the sale of 48 more BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon jets, agreed in March 2018, has not yet been finalised.
2. DPRTE arms fair on the run
The Government-backed Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) arms fair was successfully chased out of Birmingham’s NEC in March, having already been forced out of Cardiff following protests.
Activists from the peace movement, trade unions, and Yemeni and Palestinian groups came together to plan a day of creative action that was never needed. The threat of protest was enough for the event to be moved away from scrutiny and behind military wire at Farnborough.
The arms fair will be at the Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre again in 2020. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and join the campaign to shut them down.
3.Our resistance is global
Fellow activists around the world have been taking incredible inspiring actions. Thanks to creative non-violent action by Auckland Peace Action and its allies, New Zealand’s Weapons Expo has now been cancelled, chased out of three host cities – Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston!
Meanwhile in Japan, activists organised a huge rally and die-in outside the first ever ‘DSEI Japan’ arms fair in Chiba in November. Arms trade events were banned under Japan’s constitution until a few years ago, when a change made by the Government allowed the sale and transfer of arms.
4. European worker solidarity with Yemen
Saudi state-owned ship the Bahri-Yanbu was met with protests as it tried to dock in European ports this year, as workers stood in solidarity with the people of Yemen. While French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to sell arms to the Saudi regime, French activists blockaded the port of Le Havre for two days in May, forcing the Saudi ship to set sail without its military cargo on board.
Later that month the Saudi state faced more embarrassment as workers in Marseille refused to load another state-owned ship, the Bahri Tabuk, with military equipment destined for Yemen.
At the Bahri-Yanbu’s next port, Genoa, Italian dock workers joined forces with unions and campaigners including Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), and refused to load the ship. The group released a statement saying “We will not be complicit in what is happening in Yemen.” Power to the People indeed.
5. DSEI Week of Action
In September, LGBTQIA+ activists, green groups, people of faith, migrant groups and many more came together to resist the world’s largest arms fair coming to London. Each day was themed around a different issue linked to the arms trade from Borders to Climate Justice, because in the words of Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” The struggle against the arms trade must be anti-racist, anti-capitalist, antipatriarchal, and actively centring those most directly affected by its devastating consequences.
During seven days of action, the roads outside the Excel centre saw hundreds of people using their bodies to block delivery of military equipment. As well as direct action there were faith meetings, Palestinian dabka dancing, solidarity protests with Rojava and Hong Kong, a play led by the young activists of Advocacy Academy, music, film screenings and much more.
6. Kurdish solidarity action against Brighton arms factory
7. A bumper year for institutions ditching unethical sponsors
2019 saw huge wins for the movement for ethical sponsorship. Art Not Oil successfully persuaded The Festival of Making to drop British arms company BAE Systems as its main sponsor, and lesbian magazine Diva dropped BAE’s staff network from its 2019 Diva Awards shortlist after complaints from LGBT and peace groups.
Feeling the heat from climate strikers and activists, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it had listened to its youth strikers and ended its sponsorship deal with BP in October. The National Theatre swiftly followed suit, announcing its decision to drop Shell’s funding, citing the climate emergency and the role of theatre in shaping culture and encouraging understanding.
It’s not just oil and arms under the spotlight. The National Portrait Gallery turned down a £1m grant from the Sackler Foundation after artist Nan Goldin led a campaign against the Sackler family’s funds, whose pharmaceutical investments are profiting from the US opioid crisis.
Thank you for your support for the petition to the New Scientistthis autumn, calling for an end to sponsorship of their annual New Scientist Live event by BAE Systems and BP. The momentum gained this year against unethical sponsorship promises fertile ground for the campaign to continue in 2020.
8. International Criminal Court called on to investigate arms companies
On 12th December CAAT joined the European Center for Constitutional Human Rights, Yemeni organisation Mwatana for Human Rights and other international organisations, in calling on the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate executives of transnational arms companies and Government officials for their potential complicity in violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. A 350 page dossier was submitted, focused on 26 specific airstrikes which unlawfully killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools and hospitals.
The criminal responsibility of arms companies and Government Ministers exporting and authorising arms to the Saudi-led coalition has never been challenged, yet they have played a critical role in the violations of international humanitarian law, and in creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We’ll let you know how this ground-breaking legal action progresses, and whether those responsible will be brought to court.
Thank you for everything you do to support CAAT’s work. Here’s to resisting together in 2020.
Last week, a coalition of European and Yemeni groups, including CAAT, submitted a dossier to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, asking them to investigate European government and arms company officials for potentially aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and their coalition partners have been bombing civilians in Yemen ever since they entered the war there in March 2015. According to the Yemen Data Project, almost a third of coalition air strikes have been against civilian targets, and in another third of cases the nature of the target was uncertain. Around 100,000 people in total have been killed since the war started.
The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, as well as numerous Yemeni and foreign NGOs have documented hundreds of cases of specific attacks against residential areas, schools, hospitals, agricultural facilities, market places, gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and civilian factories, many of which have killed dozens of civilians, and where no military target has been in evidence nearby. These attacks are very likely to be violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL – often known as the “laws of war”), and many may be severe enough to be classed as War Crimes. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led partial blockade of the country’s air and sea ports has helped create a devastating humanitarian crisis that has already killed tens of thousands, and has put 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. There is a strong case that Saudi Arabia and its allies have been using starvation as a weapon of war, which would also be a war crime.
Who is responsible for these probable war crimes? And who can be held to account for them. Of course, those most directly responsible are the military and political leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other coalition members, who are waging the war, and the military officers who order and carry out attacks. Unfortunately, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and most of their coalition partners, are not signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and neither is the Yemen where the crimes take place, the actions of these leaders and officers fall outside the jurisdiction of the ICC.
However, responsibility for the crimes goes well beyond those directly engaged in the war. Campaigners have long argued that those who supply the arms used to wage wars and commit such atrocities, while knowing full well how these arms are being used, share the moral responsibility. This includes both the companies that produce and sell the weapons, and the governments that sanction and promote the deals. But can they also be held legally accountable for their role in enabling war crimes?
Holding the guilty to account
Last week in The Hague, on the 11th of December, a coalition of groups, including CAAT, launched an effort to do just that, submitting a 350-page Communication to the ICC, asking the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to launch an investigation into whether senior arms company executives and government officials (political or civil service) involved in arms export decisions, may be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen. The coalition is led by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a group of lawyers who pursue international human rights cases, and also includes Mwatana for Human Rights (a Yemeni NGO that documents abuses by all sides in the Yemen War), Amnesty International, Centre Delas (Spain), and Rete Disarmo (Italy).
The Communication lists five countries as key suppliers of the Saudi-led coalition: the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The companies listed include those selling fighter aircraft to the Saudi-led coalition:
BAE Systems (UK), producers of the Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used by Saudi Arabia;
Airbus Defence & Space S.A. (Spain), co-procuers of the Typhoon;
Airbus Defence & Space GmbH (Germany), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Leonardo (Italy), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Dassault Aviation (France), maker of the Mirage fighters used by UAE;
Other companies named are those selling bombs, missiles, and related equipment used in the war:
through its subsidiary RWM
Thales, who produce targeting equipment used to deploy the weapons.
As well as supplying a large proportion of the aircraft that make up the Saudi and UAE’s air strike force, the companies concerned also provide ongoing supplies of spare parts, maintenance and repair, technical support, and training, necessary to keep the aircraft flying. BAE Systems in particular has 6,300 employees in Saudi Arabia, without whose work the UK-supplied Tornado and Typhoon aircraft – more than half the Saudi strike force – would quickly be grounded.
While Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are not party to the ICC, the five European countries are. Thus, the Communication argues, the decisions taken by these governments and companies to export arms, provide services, and issue export licences, are taken on the soil of ICC participant countries, and are thus subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
ECCHR have produced a case report, and a set of Q&A, with more details about the case.
This case… may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions… that their choices have potentially deadly consequences, for which they may one day be held to account.
The ICC and CAAT’s Judicial Review
This is of course not the only legal case relating to this issue; CAAT’s own Judicial Review case against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, following our June 2019 victory in the Court of Appeal, where the judges ruled that the UK Government’s approach to approving export licenses for arms that could be used in Yemen was “irrational and therefore unlawful”. The Government has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, and we await a court date.
The case before the ICC, however, is of a very different nature, equally and important and complimentary to the Judicial Review. CAAT’s case is a matter of administrative law regarding government policy, and if successful it could force the government to change the way it goes about export licensing – in the best case, it might force a complete halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition countries so long as the air war in Yemen is ongoing. The ICC case, however, is a matter of personal, criminal responsibility for war crimes, specifically the crime of aiding and abetting such war crimes through the supply of arms. At present, no specific individuals are accused; what the Communication is asking is for the OTP to investigate which individuals in the governments and companies concerned might be responsible for any potential crimes.
The road to actually placing any government ministers or officials, or arms company executives, in the dock at The Hague, is a very long one, and it is possible that no charges will ever be brought. But the principle that those who commit, or who enable and assist in the commission of war crimes, should be held accountable for their actions is of incredible importance. It would be better if leaders and senior officers and officials of the countries actually waging the war could also be held to account; perhaps it will be in the future. But so long as this case is live, it may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions, whether at a government or corporate level, that their decisions have potentially deadly consequences for the people on the receiving end of their weapons, for which they may one day be held to account.
What a incredible start to the Stop DSEI week of action. Huge kudos to the efforts of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK, War on Want and all their friends who created a beautiful first day of direct action, workshops, dance and music, to protest and disrupt the set up of the London arms fair and say Stop Arming Israel.