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UK suspends legal assessments on Israel's compliance with international law

April 24, 2024 at 2:45 pm

Pro-Palestinian activists from the Free Palestine Coalition stand in front of Parliament on Westminster Bridge with banners calling on the UK government to demand the cessation of arms sales to Israel and a full ceasefire in Gaza on 29th November 2023 in London, United Kingdom [Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images]

In a shocking revelation during a hearing at the High Court, it has come to light that the UK government has suspended legal assessments over whether Israel is breaching International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The hearing was part of legal proceedings initiated in December by Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq and UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) against the UK after repeated written requests to suspend arms sales to Israel due to grave breaches of international law and UK rules.

According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Trade Government lawyer James Eadie admitted to a “hiatus” in legal assessments of Israel’s compliance with IHL for reasons he “couldn’t go into,” stating that “decisions of some importance have been delayed for some time.” Eadie also mentioned that these delayed decisions were due “imminently” – likely in mid to late May.

The hearing also disclosed that the Secretary of State for Business and Trade last reviewed and approved arms sales to Israel on 8 April, three months after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) opened an instigation into possible genocide carried out by the apartheid state. However, according to information provided in court, this review only covered IHL violations committed up to 28 January, as the judge stated that the legal case into this review would only cover violations up to this date.

Notably, a determination that Israel is in violation of International Humanitarian Law would require the UK to suspend any arms sales to Israel. Details revealed during the hearing indicate that the UK government has sold weapons to Israel without a thorough review of the many breaches of international law documented by rights groups.

READ: Palestinian NGO’s legal case over UK arms sales to Israel to be heard in October

CAAT has strongly criticised the government’s actions. “This government likes to claim we have a robust arms export licensing system. This claim is now in tatters,” CAAT’s Media Coordinator, Emily Apple, said. “Israel is committing horrific war crimes with the aid of UK weapons and yet our government has suspended legal assessments of its compliance with international law, and delayed vital decisions.”

“It is outrageous that it has taken a court case for these revelations to come to light. David Cameron and other foreign office ministers have repeatedly avoided scrutiny on this issue. They are making a mockery of international law and a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny.”

While the case brought by GLAN and Al-Haq has been given permission to proceed, with a full hearing scheduled for October, CAAT emphasises the urgency of the situation. “We cannot wait until October for an arms embargo. Our government and the UK arms trade is complicit in genocide and they know it. We all need to keep up the pressure and demand that they stop prioritising the profits of arms dealers over Palestinian lives,” stated Apple.

The revelations from the High Court hearing have raised serious questions about the UK government’s commitment to upholding international law and its role in enabling the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine through the continued sale of arms to Israel.

British Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, has repeatedly dodged questions about the legality of UK arms sales to Israel. Leaked reports show that the British government has received advice from its own lawyers stating that Israel has breached international humanitarian law in Gaza but has failed to make it public.

READ: David Cameron failed miserably trying to make Israel’s case in parliament

The comments, made by the Conservative Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Alicia Kearns, at a Tory fundraising event on 13 March are at odds with repeated ministerial denials and evasion on the issue.

“I remain convinced the government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment, which is the legal determination it has to make,” Kearns said in March. “Transparency at this point is paramount, not least to uphold the international rules-based order.”