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Legal battle to make UK-Saudi Arabia arms sales unlawful

April 12, 2018 at 11:32 am

Human rights campaigners protest against the UK arms sale to Saudi Arabia in London, UK on 11 July 2016 [Campaign Against Arms Trade/Flickr]

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is at the Court of Appeal today to review the export of British weapons systems to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing war in Yemen. The judicial review is being brought against Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, for granting export licences amid extensive allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in its southern neighbour.

CAAT is requesting permission to appeal against a judgement made in July last year which failed to conclude that granting such licences is unlawful.

“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,” explained Rosa Curling, a lawyer at Leigh Day. “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.”

Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, backed by a coalition supported by the United States and Britain, is trying to neutralise threats posed by the Houthi group which controls most of northern Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. The Saudi-led coalition officially began air strikes against the Houthis in March 2015, and continues to target them in densely populated areas in the country.

“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,” Andrew Smith, the media coordinator at CAAT, pointed out. “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.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) last year accused the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen of war crimes and violating international law.

Three years since the start of overt coalition involvement, 10,000 Yemeni citizens have been killed, according to the United Nations, and civilians remain caught in crossfire, facing dwindling supplies of basic amenities and lack of access to sufficient fresh water, sanitation and food.

Read: Saudi says it shot down Houthi missiles over Riyadh