Lawyers call for Government to suspend all existing arms exports to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
September 25, 2019

Lawyers from Leigh Day, representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have called on the UK Government to end all extant licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia and to refuse all future licences following war crime allegations.

This follows the publication of reports by the United Nations Panel of Experts, appointed by the UN Security Council, and the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, appointed by  the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Recent months have also seen detailed investigations conducted by Bellingcat relying on open source information. This new evidence, provides an overwhelming body of material demonstrating a pattern of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
 
In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government has acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law in at least some cases. This judgment overturned a High Court ruling from July 2017 that had found in the Government's favour. 
 
As a result, the Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. In July 2019 the Government was given permission to appeal the case. The appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court in the months ahead.
 
In a letter, dated 09 September 2019, lawyers from Leigh Day wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Legal Department arguing that in its assessments the Government should not just consider the allegations of IHL violations that existed at the time of the hearing, but also those that have followed it. The letter, which was accompanied by an extensive analysis of alleged violations of IHL that have been documented by the UN and Bellingcat investigations notes "[t]here is a clear and consistent historic and continuing pattern of breaches of IHL. There is no discernible trend of improvement.”
 
Since this letter was written, it has been revealed that the UK Government had breached the Court order on at least two occasions, having approved two licences for military equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
 
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "The assurances of the Saudi dictatorship cannot be taken seriously, and nor should they provide a fig leaf for arms dealing Governments to hide behind. This week we have seen that it has failed to uphold the court ruling that should have stopped all new exports of military equipment. There can be no more excuses; it must now end all arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”
 
Rosa Curling of Leigh Day Solicitors said: “Our clients have written to the Secretary of State setting out the basis on which it is clear that no licences for equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen can continue. Our clients believe the only lawful decision now is for licences to be suspended. They have asked for an urgent decision and are currently awaiting a substantive response. If the Secretary of State decides to continue to allow the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, our clients will have to consider seeking court intervention.”

* Leigh Day https://www.leighday.co.uk/

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