Legal action begins against BIS over UK arms sales to Israel

By agency reporter
October 10, 2014

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has instructed law firm Leigh Day to pursue an application for judicial review to challenge the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) decision not to suspend or revoke 12 existing licences for the export of arms/components to Israel.

The decision followed a review which was overseen by Vince Cable MP and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) which identified 12 licences for components that could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza. However, BIS decided that it would not even suspend these licences unless "significant hostilities" resumed.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has indicated that grave breaches of international humanitarian law and other serious breaches of international law may have occurred during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, which was launched on 8 July 2014 against the population of Gaza, killing over 1900 people.

The wider legal basis for the legal action is outlined in the letter to BIS. All the correspondence between CAAT and BIS is available on the CAAT website.

Andrew Smith from CAAT, said: "The UK government's response to the bombardment of Gaza was unacceptable. Vince Cable himself oversaw a review that identified 12 licences for arms that he accepted were likely to have been used in Gaza. He refused to even suspend them at the time, saying that he would only do so if the violence continued.

"The violence continued, more people died, and yet he failed to follow through on his word. This wasn't the first time UK weapons have been used against Gaza, so the licences should never have been granted in the first place.

"This is yet another example of the UK government doing everything in its power to promote and facilitate arms sales despite terrible ramifications for human rights. Arms sales don't just provide military support to the recipient, they imply a strong level of political support too."

Rosa Curling, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represents CAAT, said: "The decision by BIS not to suspend or revoke the twelve existing licences is unlawful. The review that was conducted by the department was flawed as it envisaged considering whether weapons 'have been’ used at the point at which 'significant hostilities' resume. This is too late.

"The licensing criteria are very clear, that licences should be revoked if there is a 'clear risk' that equipment ‘might' be used in violation of international humanitarian law or internal repression. This must be assessed at the time the licensing decision is made.

"The Government must now look at this with urgency and comply with the law on arms export to ensure that UK arms are not responsible for breaches of international law."

Since 2010 the UK government has licensed £42 million worth of military licences to Israel, including targeting systems and drone components.

* Correspondence between CAAT and BIS http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/israel/legal/

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