High Court allows UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia: critics to appeal 6

High Court allows UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia: critics to appeal

Critics of the arms trade will appeal a High Court decision which allows the UK Government to continue exporting arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

The Monday 10 June verdict came despite widespread concern over the use of UK manufactured weapons against civilians, amidst allegations of war crimes in Yemen by Saudi Arabia.

The legal action was brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Saudi Arabia has bought more than £3bn of British arms in the last two years including smart bombs with guidance systems produced in Scotland by US arms firm, Raytheon.

According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen as a result of a war on-going since March 2015.

The majority of people have been killed by a Saudi-led bombing campaign which has destroyed vital infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

Despite this, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime. Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime including £2.2 billion worth of licences for aircraft, helicopters and drones.

UK and EU arms sales rules state that export licences cannot be granted if there is a “clear risk” that the equipment could be used to break international humanitarian law.

The government has argued that it operates one of the world’s most robust and thorough arms export regimes.

Licensing is overseen by Liam Fox, the secretary of state for international trade, in consultation with the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development.

Lawyers for CAAT argued a decision to keep exporting arms was against UK policy, which states that the government must deny such licences if there is a ‘clear risk’ that arms ‘might’ be used in ‘a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

Today’s judgement follows a three-day hearing in February at which law firm Leigh Day argued that a range of international organisations – including the European Parliament and many humanitarian NGOs – have condemned the ongoing Saudi air strikes against Yemen as unlawful.

In January 2016, a United Nations Panel of Experts accused Saudi Arabian forces of ‘widespread and systematic’ targeting of civilians.

Commenting on the verdict, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “This is a very disappointing verdict, and we are pursuing an appeal. If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.

He added: “Every day we are hearing new and horrifying stories about the humanitarian crisis that has been inflicted on the people of Yemen. Thousands have been killed while vital and lifesaving infrastructure has been destroyed.

“This case has seen an increased scrutiny of the government’s toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a relationship that more than ever needs to be examined and exposed.

“For decades the UK has been complicit in the oppression of Saudi people, and now it is complicit in the destruction of Yemen.”

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said the judgement today was “very disappointing” and our client has put in an “immediate application to appeal which we hope will be granted”.

Curling added: “The law is clear: where there is a clear risk UK arms might be used in the commission of serious violations of international law, arm sales cannot go ahead.

“Nothing in the open evidence, presented by the UK government to the court, suggests this risk does not exist in relation to arms to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, all the evidence we have seen from Yemen suggests the opposite: the risk is very real.

“You need only look at the devastating reality of the situation there.

“We hope very much the court of appeal will consider CAAT’s claim as a matter of priority. Our government should not be allowing itself to be complicit in the grave violations of law taking place by the Saudi coalition in Yemen.”

George Graham, director of Conflict and Humanitarian Policy at Save the Children, said: “We are deeply disappointed by this decision. Britain is selling bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. And the Saudi-led coalition is killing children in repeated violations of international humanitarian law.

“This is not a point of contention – the evidence is overwhelming. It has been documented by UN reports, by aid groups on the ground and by credible human rights organisations.”

Last year, the two parliamentary committees recommended that weapons export licences to the country should be suspended until an independent international inquiry into allegations of breaches of international law was completed.

They found the government had failed to conduct credible investigations into how British weapons were being used.

Last week, a report said that foreign funding for extremism in Britain primarily comes from Saudi Arabia.

The report by the Henry Jackson Society also called for the government to consider requiring UK religious institutions – including mosques – to reveal sources of overseas funding.

The findings came as Theresa May faced pressure to publish the government’s own report into foreign funding of terrorism.

The Home Office-led report was completed six months ago, and No 10 says ministers are still deciding whether to publish.

MPs nervous of upsetting strategic relations in the Gulf – including with the Saudis – have also decided not to publish a separate Foreign Office strategy paper on the region.

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