High Court to consider legal challenge on arms to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
June 20, 2016

On 30 June 2016, the High Court in London will determine whether a legal challenge brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) against the UK’s licensing of arms to Saudi Arabia is allowed to proceed to judicial review.

As set out in the claim, a range of international organisations including a UN Panel of experts, the European Parliament and many humanitarian NGOs, have condemned the ongoing Saudi air strikes against Yemen as unlawful. The violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) found by the bodies listed include:

  • A failure to take all precautions in attack as required by IHL
  • Attacks causing disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects The UN panel investigating the air strikes accused the Saudi-led coalition of widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets.
  • A failure to adhere to the principle of distinction and/or the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and those not directly participating in hostilities, including facilities necessary to meet basic humanitarian needs such as electricity and water-processing plants.
  • The destruction of Cultural Property contrary to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954 and its Protocols and/or a failure to adhere to the immunity to be afforded to such property during armed conflict.

The conflict has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, with evidence from the UN suggesting that the Saudi Coalition is responsible for causing 60 per cent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen over the last 12 months.

Despite this, the UK government has licensed over £2.8 billion worth of arms since the bombing of Yemen began. The weapon categories included for arms exports since the bombing of Yemen began include approximately:

  • £1.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)

There have also been allegations of UK made cluster bombs being used in the bombardment. These are illegal and banned under the Convention of Cluster Munitions to which the UK is a signatory.

The claim which will be considered calls on the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into if the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "It is imperative that the UK is held to account for its complicity in the destruction of Yemen. A growing body of evidence shows that Saudi Arabia has repeatedly breached international humanitarian law, yet the government has continued to arms the regime, making a mockery of its own legislation. It must end the arms sales and suspend all military licences to Saudi Arabia."

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at Leigh Day, which is representing CAAT, said: "It is crucial that the courts consider whether the ongoing sales of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is unlawful. The overwhelming evidence from those who are, or have been, working on the ground in Yemen is that the Saudi coalition is acting in breach of international law, killing thousands of people and destroying vital infrastructure. To continue to grant licences in such circumstances, is unlawful. We hope the Court will now intervene in this matter and order the government to reconsider without further delay."

* Campaign Against Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk/

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