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Arms Trade Weapons sales to Saudis are unlawful, court hears

BRITISH arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful and must be stopped, the Court of Appeal heard today.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says there is a “clear risk” of arms being used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

In February 2017, CAAT challenged the Department for International Trade’s failure to suspend licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia.

The High Court rejected the campaign’s case in July, but CAAT is now applying for permission to appeal against that decision.

Martin Chamberlain QC, for CAAT, said that the Secretary of State, in seeking to determine whether there is a clear risk, must conduct an “assessment of the question of whether a certain pattern of violations can be discerned in the past.”

He referred to a January 2017 report by a UN panel of experts that had undertaken a “detailed examination of 10 incidents,” including an October  8 2016 air strike on a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital Sana’a which killed at least 140 people.

He acknowledged to Lord Justice Flaux that a military target had been identified in that bombing, but he added: “You still don't attack a hall with 500 mourners in it.”

Mr Chamberlain argued that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was “not in a position to interpret whether [a target] was legitimate or not.”

He said that, of bombings tracked by the ministry, “despite their access to Saudi military liaison, the MoD has been unable to identify any legitimate military target" in three-quarters of the cases examined.

He also referred to a February 2016 comment by Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, official spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition’s forces, “Now our rules of engagement are, you are close to the border, you are killed.”

Mr Chamberlain pointed out that, “if you declare an entire area a target of military attack, you are violating the principle of distinction" between military and civilian targets.
 
He also noted that the MoD “just doesn't know whether Saudi Arabia has ever prosecuted or punished a member of its armed forces" for breaches of international humanitarian law.

Before the hearing went into private session to hear secret evidence, James Eadie QC said the government’s access to information from the Saudis made it “better placed” to assess the situation than those relying on “open-source reporting” such as from the UN.

Judgement in the case was reserved.

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