London High Court rejects bid to halt British arms sales to Saudi Arabia

FILE PHOTO: The Royal Courts of Justice are seen in London Britain. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 July 2017
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London High Court rejects bid to halt British arms sales to Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The London High Court threw out an attempt to halt UK military sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, in a case brought by an anti-arms group.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) had asked the court for an order to block export licenses for British-made military exports to the Kingdom, which it claimed had been used in Yemen in breach of human rights law.
The judges found that the UK secretary of state for international trade was “rationally entitled to conclude” that the Saudi Arabia-backed coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians.
The 58-page judgment handed down by Lord Justice Burnett and Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave follows three days of hearings in February. 
In their judgment, the pair said: “Saudi Arabia has been and remains genuinely committed to compliance with international humanitarian law.”
The court, which heard much of the government’s case in hearings closed to the media and public, said there had been extensive political and military engagement with Saudi Arabia regarding the conduct of operations in Yemen.
Referring to the closed material submitted by the government, the judges said, “The advantage of the closed material procedure is that we have had full access to all the facts and materials relied upon by the secretary of state.”
Saudi Arabia has been backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government following the outbreak of a civil war in the country in 2015.
The court decision helped to lift shares in the UK’s BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defense contractor, which rose 2 percent to 630 pence.
Sales to Saudi Arabia accounted for more than a fifth of the FTSE 100-listed company’s total revenues last year.
Thousands of UK defense-industry jobs depend on Saudi arms exports, while BAE Systems also employs thousands of workers in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is critical for UK defense exports,” said Ben Moore, an analyst with IHS Jane’s, who estimates that there are some $8.6 billion in booked orders destined for the Kingdom from the UK over the next decade.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest export customer for the Eurofighter combat aircraft and also buys a range of other military equipment from the UK including training aircraft and radar systems.
The closely watched case comes as Britain prepares to leave the EU and is seeking to boost defense industry exports in key markets that include Saudi Arabia.
Defense spending across the Middle East and North Africa is expected to rise by about 1.4 percent to $165 billion this year according to IHS Jane’s.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We welcome this judgment, which underscores the fact that the UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
“We will continue to keep our defense exports under careful review to ensure they meet the rigorous standards of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”
Rosa Curling, a lawyer for CAAT, described the judgment as “very disappointing.”
“Our client has put in an immediate application to appeal which we hope will be granted,” she said.


Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

Updated 9 sec ago
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Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas
  • The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Dozens of protesters gathered in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to demand justice for an 18-year-old woman who died after being set on fire for refusing to drop sexual harassment charges against her Islamic school’s principal.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas. When she refused, she said her hands were tied and she was doused in kerosene and set alight.
Rafi told the story to her brother in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and he recorded her testimony on his mobile phone. She died four days later in a Dhaka hospital with burns covering 80% of her body.
The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported, victims are intimidated and the legal process is often lengthy. Many avoid reporting to police because of social stigma.
“We want justice. Our girls must grow up safely and with dignity,” Alisha Pradhan, a model and actress, told The Associated Press during Friday’s demonstration. “We protest any forms of violence against women, and authorities must ensure justice.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Rafi’s funeral prayers in Feni, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised Rafi’s family when they met in Dhaka that those responsible would be punished.
At least 17 people, including students, have been arrested in connection with the case, said Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation.
In late March, Rafi filed a complaint with police that the principal of her madrasa, or Islamic school, had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Her family agreed to help her to file the police complaint, which prompted police to arrest the principal, infuriating him and his supporters. Influential local politicians backed the principal, and ruling party members were also among the arrested.
Police said the arrested suspects told them during interrogations that the attack on Rafi was planned and ordered by the school’s principal from prison when his men went to see him. It was timed for daytime so that it would look like a suicide attempt, Majumder said.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rafi’s family said that they had received death threats before the attack telling them to drop the case.
While Rafi’s case is now being treated with urgency, that wasn’t the case until her death.
A video taken on March 27 while Rafi reported the assault shows the local police chief registering her complaint but telling her that the incident was “not a big deal.” The chief was later removed from the police station for negligence in dealing with the case.
For Bangladeshi women, it is often not easy to file sensitive complaints with police. Victims often fear further harassment and bullying. Police also often show an unwillingness to investigate such cases and are often accused of being influenced by local politics or bribes.
But the call for dealing with violence against women, especially related to sexual harassment and assault, is also getting louder.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation.”