Campaigners challenge British arms export licences to Saudi Arabia

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FILE PHOTO: The Rolls Building (R), which is used by Britain’s High Court, is seen in London, Britain, June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Raphael Satter/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is unlawfully allowing arms sales to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the war in Yemen despite evidence of repeated violations of international humanitarian law, campaigners told London’s High Court on Tuesday.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says the British government wrongly decided to resume issuing new licences to export military equipment to Saudi Arabia in 2020.

CAAT says granting licences is unlawful because there is a “clear risk” the arms may be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law in the Yemen conflict, between a Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.

The group is asking the High Court to rule that the government’s decision to continue to grant export licences and refuse to suspend existing licences is unlawful.

In written arguments on Tuesday, the British government said that the number of alleged violations suggests Saudi Arabia’s military is “committed to upholding the principles of international humanitarian law and has shown a rapid and continuing improvement”.

CAAT previously took legal action over arms exports to Saudi Arabia and, in 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government failed to consider whether there was a pattern of breaches by Saudi Arabia.

Britain’s then-International Trade Minister Liz Truss decided the following year to resume issuing arms export licences, on the grounds that any possible violations of international humanitarian law were “isolated”.

Ben Jaffey, representing CAAT, said Saudi Arabia has demonstrated a “pattern” of violations during the war and shown “an inability or unwillingness to implement the rules of international humanitarian law”.

However, James Eadie, representing the British government, said in court documents that there has been a “sustained decrease” in the number of allegations of violations over the course of the war.

He also argued that the government is able to access a large amount of information that is not publicly available, which will be considered by the court in a closed session on Wednesday.

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