Campaigners bring new legal challenge to UK over arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Campaigners bring new legal challenge to UK over arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Anti-arms campaigners in the UK have filed a judicial review of the decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
27 October, 2020
Yemen is in a humanitarian crisis [Getty]

Campaigners in the UK on Tuesday issued a new legal challenge against the UK government's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, over the threats to civilian lives these weapons bring.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) filed a Judicial Review application into the legality of the UK government's decision to renew arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, which is believed to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Yemen since 2015.

In June 2019, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that London acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made weapons to Saudi-led forces for use in Yemen without assessing whether the coalition had breached international humanitarian law.

This followed a case brought by CAAT, which the government was ordered to not issue any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.

However, in July 2020 the government announced that it will resume the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which followed a review by the Department of International Trade that claimed violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) committed by the anti-Houthi coalition were merely "isolated incidents".

Read also: UK government 'complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen', British MPs say

CAAT and other anti-arms campaigners have called for a review of the "isolated incidents" decision, saying they have documented hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, public gatherings, and agricultural land.

Andrew Smith of CAAT 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."

Last month, a United Nations report said countries arming parties involved in the Yemen conflict could be "aiding and assisting" war crimes, asserting that there had been "documented patterns" of serious international humanitarian law violations.

Yemen has since 2014 been gripped by a war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a beleaguered government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition. Fighting, blockades and Saudi-led airstrikes has sunk the country into the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

More than 24 million people, nearly 80 percent of the population, depend on some form of aid for survival, and this year the situation has deteriorated sharply. 

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