Campaign Against Arms Trade faces UK government in court over legality of Saudi weapon sales
2012 Right Livelihood Laureate Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is facing the UK government before the country’s High Court this week to “challenge the lawfulness” of the resumption of arms sales to Saudia Arabia.
CAAT has sued the British government claiming that the weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have been used in the war in Yemen to indiscriminately attack civilians.
The organisation’s aim is two-fold. First, to stop future weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and second, to suspend existing arms sale licenses.
Erin Alcock, CAAT’s lead solicitor in the case, explained that while the UK government has not violated international humanitarian law, the Saudi government has. Because of this, all weapons sales to the country should be stopped.
“There are no allegations made in the case that the UK government has violated international humanitarian law,” said Alcock. “But rather that violations of international humanitarian law carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen should trigger the suspension of licences to transfer weapons.”
The case also has the potential to prevent UK weapons from being used in future humanitarian crises similar to Yemen’s.
This is not the first time CAAT has faced off against the government. In 2019, the group won a case in the Court of Appeals, the UK’s highest court, with the judge temporarily pausing the issuance of new licenses for weapons sales to Saudi Arabia pending government review.
The judicial review ultimately found that any violations of humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia were isolated and did not pose a risk of future violations, a finding that CAAT’s Research Coordinator, Sam Perlo-Freeman called absurd.
“This is a ridiculous conclusion,” said Perlo-Freeman. “It flies in the face of the evidence that there’s far more than a small number of violations that there are very, very clear patterns and that even isolated incidents could give rise to a clear risk of further violations.”
New weapon sales licenses to Saudi Arabia have since resumed, prompting CAAT to return to court in defence of human rights.
“If the case is successful, the Secretary of State will be required to re-take her decision with respect to licencing for sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Alcock said. “Any principles that apply here will also apply to licencing equipment for sale in similar contexts.”
The hearings are expected to last from Tuesday, January 31 until Thursday, February 2.