The export of British arms to Saudi Arabia has been declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal. The legal action brought by Campaign Against Armed Trade (CAAT) argued that ministers had failed to assess Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen.
The appeal judges have requested an immediate review over concerns that British-made bombs were being used to kill civilians in Yemen, and have described the decision to supply arms to Saudi Arabia as ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’.
According to the Court of Appeal, the government made ‘no assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so’.
Andrew Smith, CAAT campaigner described the bombing in Yemen as ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world’. He added UK arms companies had ‘profited every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately.’
‘The horrors that the world has witnessed in Yemen can no longer be ignored by the UK government,’ commented Rosa Curling, solicitor of law firm Leigh Day. ‘When considering whether to grant licences, the court has confirmed the Secretary of State must assess whether the Saudi Arabia has breached international humanitarian law previously. The pattern of serious violations do not simply need to be “taken into account” as the Divisional Court found; the Court of Appeal has ruled that the pattern has to be properly assessed and considered. An answer to the question of whether Saudi Arabia has breached international law has to be answered. The government will now have to reconsider whether to suspend existing export licenses and reconsider its decision to continue to grant licences. Our client hopes the government will reconsider quickly and will decide that no further licences should be granted.’
The Secretary of State for International Trade announced that while they look to appeal the decision, government ‘will not grant any new licences for export to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen’.
The minister is now obliged to reconsider all future export licences in accordance with human rights guidelines which stipulate that EU member states ‘shall… deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the … equipment might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law’.