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THE government could face legal action again over its decision to resume weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, anti-arms campaigners warned today.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced last month that Britain would resume sales to the Gulf state, claiming reports of international law violations in Yemen were “isolated incidents.”
Lawyers representing Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) are demanding ministers to explain the basis behind this decision.
In a letter to the government, CAAT’s lawyers are seeking clarification on the number of so-called “isolated cases” of human rights abuses considered in the government’s assessment and whether specific incidents were recorded as violations.
Among the incidents listed is the devastating 2016 attack on a funeral ceremony in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a which killed 140 people.
Ms Truss’s decision to resume sales follows a Court of Appeal ruling last year, which found that the British government had acted unlawfully when it licensed weapons to Saudi Arabia without assessing the human rights implications.
CAAT is now seeking to challenge the sales once again.
Campaigner Andrew Smith said: “The government’s decision to resume sales to the Saudi regime is disgraceful. It will only prolong the war in Yemen and increase the bloodshed.
“The justifications offered have failed to answer a number of serious questions about how this immoral decision could possibly have been reached.”
Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Saudi regime of human rights abuse in Yemen including the bombing of funerals, hospitals and other civilian areas.
More than 200,000 Yemenis have been killed since 2015 with two-thirds of its population now relying on humanitarian aid to survive.
During that time, Britain has licensed at least £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, according to CAAT, though it added the true figure is likely higher as many of the weapons are sold under opaque licences.
In the days just before and after sales were resumed, an investigation by Declassified found that at least eight children had been killed in Yemen in attacks possibly carried out by Saudi forces.
And that week, the Ministry of Defence disclosed figures showing it had recorded 500 possible breaches of international law by Saudi forces, revealed in a parliamentary question by Labour MP Zarah Sultana.
Ms Sultana told the Morning Star: “The government’s decision to allow new arms sales to Saudi Arabia is utterly shameful.
“Campaigners have highlighted a catalogue of apparent war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, including the air strike in 2018 that hit a bus carrying around 50 children, killing 40 people and injuring many more.
“This war is only possible because of arm sales from governments like the UK.
“The government says that these alleged war crimes are only ‘isolated incidents,’ but since 2015 there have been an average of more than two alleged violations of international humanitarian law every single week.
“It must stop putting arms dealers’ profits above human rights and immediately ban the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.”
A government spokesperson said: “We do not comment on actual or potential legal proceedings.
“The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and 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.”
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