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Anti-arms campaigners win bid to take government to court over Saudi arms sales renewal

ANTI-ARMS campaigners were granted permission today to take the government to court over its decision to renew arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The action is part of an ongoing legal challenge by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to end sales to the kingdom over its use of the weapons on civilians in Yemen.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government acted unlawfully when it licensed British-made arms sales to Saudi-led forces without making an assessment as to whether past incidents amounted to breaches of international humanitarian laws (IHL).

The government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.

In July 2020, the government announced that it was resuming arms sales following a review by the Department for International Trade (DIT).

The review concluded that any violations of IHL committed by the Saudi coalition were “isolated incidents,” despite hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, agricultural land and facilities being documented.

The war has also created a humanitarian crisis, with the UN warning that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

In CAAT’s challenge, the High Court will consider whether the government’s decision to resume licensing arms sales was lawful, with a hearing likely to take place later this year.

Sarah Waldron of CAAT said: “The UK government may claim that these are only ‘isolated incidents’ but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Attacks on civilian sites have been widespread and systematic and have hugely increased the death toll.

“Despite its complicity in this crisis, the UK government has done all it can to keep the arms sales flowing.

“The decision to renew arms sales was immoral, and we are confident that the High Court will conclude that it was also illegal.”

Bonyan Jamal of Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights organisation that has been granted permission to intervene in the case, said: “It’s been a very long seven years of war in Yemen, and it’s shameful that the UK has kept selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, putting UK profits over Yemeni lives.

“Mwatana has been documenting Saudi and UAE violations in Yemen for years and, if the UK government won’t take a principled approach to weapons sales, we’re hoping the British legal system will.”

A DIT spokesperson said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”

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