UK arms to Saudi Arabia legal battle goes to Court of Appeal

By agency reporter
April 12, 2018

Campaigners will go to the Court of Appeal on Thursday 12 April 2018 for a one day hearing in an attempt to overturn a High Court judgment which allows the UK Government to continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is asking for permission to appeal against a judgment by the High Court on 10 July 2017 which did not find the granting of licences for the export of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia unlawful, despite global concern over the use of these weapons which could be used to commit a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Lawyers Leigh Day, representing CAAT, had argued that the decision to grant the licences was against UK arms export policy, which clearly states that the government must deny such licences if there is a ‘clear risk’ that the arms ‘might’ be used in ‘a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law’.

The judicial review brought against the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, over his decision to allow these export licences to be granted, follows serious allegations that Saudi forces might have used UK arms in serious violations of international humanitarian law in their ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

On 3 April 2018, the United Nations declared the three year war in Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people in desperate need of aid and protection.

Last month the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that thousands of children had been killed during the conflict and thousands more seriously injured. Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said: “In 2017 alone, we’ve seen children continue to be killed and seriously injured at a rate of a minimum of five children every single day.”

A Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels has destroyed vital infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £4.6 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.9 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

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’ attacks on civilian targets. More recently, the UK government confirmed that it is 'tracking' 350 possible breaches of international humanitarian law carried out by Saudi-led forces.

Despite these serious allegations, the UK government has refused to suspend any military licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

Half of the hearings were conducted in ‘closed sessions.’ Neither the claimant nor their lawyers were able to be present for these ‘closed’ sessions.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Thousands of people have been killed since the verdict last July, and the humanitarian situation has only got worse, yet the arms sales have continued. We believe that these arms sales haven’t just been immoral, they have also been illegal. We hope the Court allows our appeal to go ahead, and that the government is held to account for the consequences of the arms sales it has supported and promoted."

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said: "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 High Court suggested 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."

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

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