UK Court of Appeal holds sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia unlawful

The UK Court of Appeal has held the UK government’s sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia to be unlawful.

The legal action was brought against the Secretary of State for International Trade by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK-based organisation working to end the international arms trade. The appellants based its pleadings on reports from numerous reputable sources that Saudi forces had violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in their ongoing bombardment of Yemen. The UK has licensed the sale of at least £4.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the civil war in Yemen.

The Court held that the UK government had violated Article 2.2 of the EU Common Council Position 2008/944/CGSP, as adopted in the Secretary of State’s 2014 Guidance. Under this instrument, Member States must deny a licence for the sale of arms to other states if there is “a clear risk” that the military equipment exported might be used “in the commission of serious violations of IHL”.

The Court held that the appellants had succeeded in their argument that there was a historic pattern of breaches of IHL on the part of the Saudi forces. The Court also concluded that the government had not assessed whether there had been violations of IHL in the past by Saudi Arabia in its consideration of whether there was a ‘clear risk’ of UK military equipment being used in serious violations of IHL. The government instead relied on their ‘close engagement’ with Saudi Arabia. The government did take account of the myriad reports of IHL violations from various organisations, but did not meaningfully engage with this evidence or attempt to come to a conclusion about it. The Court concluded that this was “irrational and therefore unlawful”.

The Court thus allowed the appeal and ordered that the matter be remitted to the Secretary of State for reconsideration in accordance with the correct legal approach. The Secretary of State has suspended new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, however has indicated that the government will appeal the decision.

Click here for the decision in full.




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