Judicial Review application filed on decision to renew arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
October 28, 2020

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has filed a Judicial Review application into the legality of the UK government's decision to renew arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi-led forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. This followed a case brought by CAAT. The government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.

In July 2020, the government announced that it was resuming arms sales. This followed a review by the Department of International Trade which concluded that any violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) committed by the Saudi coalition were ‘isolated incidents’, despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.

Since announcing its conclusion and the decision to resume licensing, the government has provided very little information on how it reached the conclusions it did, including how it decided there was no "pattern" of violations. It has refused to say how many incidents it considered to be possible violations of IHL.

UK arms export criteria says that if there is a "clear risk" that a weapon "might" be used in a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) then an arms sale should not go ahead. Saudi-led forces have been accused of widespread and systematic violations of IHL.

Last month, a United Nations expert panel concluded that Saudi-led forces had been responsible for a pattern of IHL breaches and concluded that countries arming parties to the war could be "aiding and assisting" war crimes.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

In reality, CAAT says the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system. The UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Tens of thousands of people have been killed in this brutal bombardment, yet arms companies have profited every step of the way. These arms sales have only fuelled the destruction and prolonged the conflict. Last year the Court of Appeal found that the government had acted illegally, and nothing that we have seen since suggests otherwise.

"The government may think that the widespread destruction of schools, hospitals and homes can be dismissed as 'isolated incidents' but we do not. These arms sales are immoral, and we are confident that the Court will confirm that the decision to renew them was illegal.“

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said: "Our client has provided evidence to the court which shows every independent international body which has investigated specific violations of IHL by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in Yemen has concluded that KSA has perpetrated repeated violations of fundamental rules of IHL. Such reports have been issued year after year, without any significant evidence of a change in approach or improvement in the conduct of KSA, or the avoidance or past conduct, such as the targeting of crowded markets. Despite this, our government has determined it appropriate to continue to arm the KSA coalition, a decision which our client considers unlawful and a decision we hope the court will overturn as a matter of priority.”

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

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