arms-embargo 09 July 2020

UK adds Saudis to Magnitsky list – then resumes arms sales to the Kingdom

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has announced its own ‘Magnitsky’ style sanctions – a ‘powerful new regime’ which means that the UK has ‘new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the country, channelling money through UK banks, or profiting from our economy.’

The government has also announced a first wave of designations under the initiative – which includes, it says, ‘Forty-nine individuals and organisations involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations and abuses in recent years.’

Amongst those listed are Saudi officials said to be associated with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Russian officials allegedly associated with the death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, two ‘high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities,’ and two organisations ‘involved in the forced labour, torture and murder that takes place in North Korea’s gulags.’

‘The UK has pipped the EU to the post,’ one lawyer told WorldECR, referring to the oft-mooted potential for the European Union to establish its own regime.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘A special unit will consider the use of future sanctions, with teams across the department monitoring human rights issues. They will ensure targets under the landmark regime will have to meet stringent legal tests before the UK decides to designate, ensuring the sanctions are robust and powerful.

‘The suite of measures can also apply to those who facilitate, incite, promote, or support these violations/abuses, as well as those who financially profit from human rights violations and abuses.’

However, on 7 July – a day after the announcement of the designations – Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, announced that previously suspended arms exports to Saudi could resume. According to Truss, whereas her predecessor had suspended export licences for the sale or transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemen conflict as per a ruling from the Court of Appeal in 2019, the government had taken steps to address the court’s concerns, applying a revised methodology for the analysis of possible violations of International Humanitarian Law (‘IHL’) on the basis of which she had ‘assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL’.

Accordingly, Truss announced, ‘[I]t follows that the undertaking that my predecessor gave to the Court – that we would not grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen – falls away. The broader commitment that was given to Parliament, relating to licences for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, also no longer applies.’