Appeal against decision to allow UK arms...
More than 16,000 air raids have occurred across the country, including attacks on schools, hospitals and markets – one air raid every 90 minutes for the last three years. During the same period the UK has licensed £4.6bn worth of arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia … The UK government has both a moral and legal obligation to ensure British-made weapons aren’t killing and maiming children in Yemen.
The court of appeal, responding to an attempt by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to overturn last summer’s verdict, said the key issue that needed to be examined was the accepted principle that the British government should “not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.
The issue of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the government’s support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, has become more controversial as the war in Yemen has dragged on, plunging the country into increasing chaos and hunger. Saudi-led forces have also been accused of air raids in which civilians have been killed.
The granting of the appeal will allow campaigners to challenge the high court ruling that the secretary of state for international trade had not acted unlawfully or irrationally in refusing to block export licences for the multi-billion sale and transfer of arms and military equipment.
In written evidence two years ago the government admitted that, as the conflict in Yemen worsened, a Saudi request to accelerate the delivery of Paveway precision-guided bombs, training and other assistance had been granted.
Giving the group leave to appeal, Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Flaux said the government should not be allowed to “balance the risk of serious violation of international humanitarian law against any other, extraneous considerations, including whether the end of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia would make matters better or worse in the Yemen”.
Andrew Smith, of CAAT, said later: “The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has killed thousands of people and created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. Despite this, the Saudi regime has been armed and supported every step of the way by successive UK governments.We believe that these arms sales are immoral, and are confident that the court of appeal will agree that they are unlawful.”
Britain sells billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is historically one of its major arms markets. There was a sharp increase last year in deals that critics such as Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, have described as being done “behind closed doors, and shrouded in secrecy”.
Commenting on the ruling, Rosa Curling, of law firm Leigh Day, representing the campaigners, said: “We are delighted the court of appeal judges have recognised that a full hearing into this case must take place.
“It is clear from the open evidence in this claim that there is a clear risk the arms sold from the UK might be used in serious violation of international law. Where our politicians have sadly failed to follow UK legislation and policy, our client hopes the court will ensure the rule of law is upheld.”
A government spokesman said: “We remain confident that the UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and will continue to defend the decisions being challenged.
“We keep our defence exports under careful review to ensure they meet the rigorous standards of the consolidated EU and national arms export-licensing criteria.”
The decision was also welcomed by other aid organisations who have been campaigning on the Yemen issue.
Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, said: “We welcome the court of appeal’s decision. The UK should not continue to sell arms where there is the real likelihood that they will exacerbate what is already the world’s largest humanitarian disaster.”
Save the Children hailed the ruling in a statement, saying: “Since the beginning of the conflict at least 6,000 children have been killed or injured in what the UN describes as an ‘entirely manmade’ catastrophe.