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CAAT launches fresh legal action against government's renewed arm sales to Saudi Arabia

by Bethany Rielly

THE government is facing new legal action over arms exports to Saudi Arabia after ministers decided to renew sales earlier this year. 

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) announced today that it has filed a judicial review application into the legality of ministers’ decision to renew arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen.

The campaign group claims that the weapons are being used to “fuel destruction and prolong the conflict” in Yemen where six-years of conflict have resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, Britain has licensed £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime.

Last month, a UN expert panel concluded that Saudi-led forces had been responsible for a pattern of international humanitarian law breaches and concluded that countries arming parties to the war could be “aiding and assisting” war crimes.

The legal challenge is the second launched by CAAT against the government’s export of arms to Saudi Arabia.

In 2019 the Court of Appeal found that the sales were unlawful because ministers had signed off on exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians. 

The ruling prevented the government from issuing new arms licences.

But the sales were restarted in June 2020 after a review by government lawyers found that there had only been “isolated incidents” of air strikes in Yemen that breached humanitarian law.

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “The government may think that the widespread destruction of schools, hospitals and homes can be dismissed as ‘isolated incidents’ but we do not.”

Soon after the decision to renew sales was announced by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Ministry of Defence figures were released which showed that it had identified over 500 Saudi air raids in possible breach of international law in Yemen. 

The Department for International Trade said it cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings. 

A government spokesperson said that it takes “export responsibilities seriously and rigorously assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. 

“We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”

The MoD figures were released following an urgent question by Labour MP Zarah Sultana.

Welcoming CAAT’s legal challenge, Ms Sultana said today: “There have been more than 500 alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 yet still the government insists these violations are ‘isolated’. Its decision to renew arms sales in July was scandalous.”

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