The United Kingdom’s High Court has ruled in favor of the British government to allow the continuation of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite widespread concerns over breaches of international humanitarian law in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.
In a legal challenge led by London-based organization Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), two senior judges ruled on Monday that the government “was not irrational or unlawful” in its decision to approve export licences to the Arab kingdom. The 58-page verdict concluded that there was no “real risk” of “serious violations.”
CAAT said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with the ruling and plans to pursue an appeal. Non-governmental organizations working in Yemen described the judgement as “a dark day for the people of Yemen.” More than half of the three day hearing of the judicial review case that was held in February was closed to CAAT, the press, and the public. The judges stated that the U.K. government had “more sophisticated sources of information” than CAAT, but claimed it could not be disclosed in open court “for national security reasons.”
British government officials licensed the sale of $4.2 billion (£3.3 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first 12 months of the Saudi-led bombing in Yemen, which is now in its third year. As of January this year the U.K. Ministry of Defence was itself tracking 252 cases of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law following Saudi coalition air strikes in Yemen.
CAAT’s lawyers argued that the government was in breach of U.K. and European Union law and the Arms Trade Treaty, ratified by the U.K. in 2014, which states that if there is “a risk of any serious violation of international humanitarian law” exports should not be authorized.
Explaining the reasoning for their ruling, the two senior judges said that Saudi Arabia had addressed concerns by setting up its own investigatory body. However, the Saudi Joint Incidents Assessment Team has released the initial results of an investigation into just 20 strikes, including attacks on two Médecins Sans Frontières-supported medical facilities in northern Yemen. In 14 of the 20 strikes, the Saudi investigators absolved the coalition of wrongdoing or responsibility for alleged violations.
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