Britain’s violations of international law

by Mark Curtis

The UK is violating and/or facilitating the violation of international law on various fronts, rendering it a rogue state.

Trade in Israeli settlement goods

UK policy is allowing trade with ‘Israeli’ goods from illegal settlements in the occupied territories.[1] The British government has stated that it does not even keep a record of imports into the UK from the illegal Israeli settlements.[2] Acquiescing in this illegal trade by an occupying power is a violation of international law.[3] The December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution, to which the UK agreed:

‘reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.[4]

Relationship with Israeli Navy

The UK has recently been conducting exercises with the Israeli Navy[5] which is illegally blockading Gaza[6]. A Royal Navy commander has said that it has a “great relationship with the Israeli Navy”.[7]

Covert action in Libya

SAS forces have reportedly been secretly deployed to Libya since the beginning of 2016.[8] The reason for this UK covert operation in Libya is likely to be because it is illegal. UN Resolution 1970 of 2011 requires an arms embargo on the country, including the provision of technical assistance and training:

“Decides that all Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance, related to military activities or the provision, maintenance or use of any arms and related materiel, including the provision of armed mercenary personnel”. [9]

War in Yemen

The UK has consistently and falsely[10] told Parliament that it is “not a party” to the Saudi war in Yemen[11] presumably since this would formally implicate it in the illegal violations of humanitarian law of which Saudi Arabia is accused. The British government has even stated that it is “not acting to determine whether” Saudi Arabia violates international law in Yemen.[12] UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are also illegal in that they fuel war crimes and human rights violations and thus violate the legally-binding international Arms Control Treaty. This states:

“State Party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1) or of items covered under Article 3 or Article 4, if it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party”.[13]

Libya war of 2011

Britain’s war in Libya in 2011 was illegal but no action has been taken or appears imminent to hold Ministers to account for this. British bombing in Libya, which began in March 2011, was a violation of UN Resolution 1973, which authorised member states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and to use ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent attacks on civilians but did not authorise the use of ground troops[14] or regime change[15] promoted by the Cameron government. That these policies were illegal is confirmed by Cameron himself, who told Parliament on 21 March 2011 that the UN resolution ‘explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means’.[16]





[3] For a good recent analysis, see





[8] For sources see

[9] Para 9,

[10] The government says there are around 100 UK military personnel based in Saudi Arabia including a ‘small number’ at ‘Saudi MOD and Operational Centres’. One such Centre, in Riyadh, coordinates the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen and includes British military personnel who are in the command room as airstrikes are carried out and who have access to the bombing targets. The UK has also supplied numerous missiles and other weapons used by the Saudis in Yemen. For sources see

[11] See, for example,


[13] Article 6,

[14] General David Richards, then Chief of the Defence Staff, revealed during his evidence session to a parliamentary enquiry that Britain ‘had a few people embedded’ with the rebel forces, saying that they were ‘in the rear areas’ and ‘would go forward and back’.

[15] Richards repeatedly told the parliamentary enquiry that British policy amounted to regime change. Indeed, British bombing clearly went beyond preventing attacks on civilians – three weeks after Cameron assured parliament in March 2011 that the object of the intervention was not regime change, he signed a joint letter with President Obama and French President Sarkozy committing to ‘a future without Gaddafi’.





  1. D O'Negal says:

    It didn’t happen. Even when it was happening it wasn’t happening.

  2. Alex Westlake says:

    The “Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” no longer exists. It was the name of the country under the Gaddafi regime.

  3. Geoff Short says:

    Please note that many very prominent international lawyers claim that West Bank settlements are perfectly legal. They include the late Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, honorary professor of international law at the University of Cambridge; Professor Eugene Rostow, former dean of the Yale law school and Professor Stephen Schwebel, former president of the International court of Justice

Comments on this entry are closed.

3 pingbacks