Thursday, May 30

UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia could continue



Campaigners have lost a high-profile case calling for UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be stopped over humanitarian concerns as the high court ruled exports could continue.

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) launched the high profile judicial review of the government’s decision to continue granting weapons export licences to the country despite widespread concern over the civilian death toll of its campaign in Yemen.

Delivering an open judgment in the high court in London, Lord Justice Burnett, who heard the case with Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, said: “We have concluded that the material decisions of the secretary of state were lawful. We therefore dismiss the claim.

The judgment was necessarily long and rather dense, he said. The court is also handing down a closed judgment, following a case in which half of the evidence was heard in secret after the government argued it contained sensitive information that could not be heard in public for national security reasons.

Saudi Arabia, UK’s largest weapons client, has bought more than £3bn of British arms in the last two years.

UK and EU arms sales rules state that export licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk that the equipment could be used to break international humanitarian law. Licensing is overseen by Liam Fox, the secretary of state for international trade, in consultation with the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development.

The government has argued that it operates one of the world’s most robust and thorough arms export regimes.

But lawyers for CAAT argued during hearings in the high court in London in February that the government was overlooking significant concerns, including those raised by the UN and its own licensing officials, over how Saudi Arabia was conducting its two-year campaign in Yemen.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of Gulf nations in a campaign aiming to put down a Houthi-led insurgency in Yemen, the region’s poorest country.

Allegations of war crimes have been made against both sides, and last January a leaked UN report described widespread and systematic targeting of civilians in Saudi-led strikes, including the bombing of health facilities, schools, wedding parties and camps for internally displaced people.

The government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia have come under sustained criticism from sources including MPs on the business and international development parliamentary select committees.

Last year the two parliamentary committees recommended that weapons export licences to the country should be suspended until an independent international inquiry into allegations of breaches of international law was completed. They found the government had failed to conduct credible investigations into how British weapons were being used.

The foreign affairs select committee, which refused to sign up to the committee recommendation, published its own report saying any decision on exports to Saudi Arabia should wait until the outcome of the CAAT case. But it also called for an independent UN investigation into claims Saudi Arabia has broken international humanitarian law.