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High Court Dismisses CAAT’s Challenge to UK-Saudi Arms Trade; Yemeni Civilian Lives Continue to Hang in Balance

The UK High Court has dismissed a judicial review filed by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), allowing the continued licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as reported by CAAT on June 6, 2023. The Court ruled that the Secretary of State for International Trade did not act irrationally in their decision, despite allegations that the Saudi-led Coalition may be violating International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Yemen.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in 2015, the UK has sold over £25bn of arms to the Saudi-led Coalition. It is reported that airstrikes by the Coalition have resulted in the deaths of 8,983 civilians and significant damage to critical infrastructure, including hospitals and wedding venues. The situation in Yemen is now described as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with millions facing famine.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, stated, “This ruling raises profound ethical questions. Despite clear evidence of the severe humanitarian impact, it seems that the scales of justice have been tipped towards profits and diplomacy, rather than the protection of human lives. We stand with CAAT in their determination to challenge this further.”

In 2019, CAAT won a case against the government’s licensing of arms to Saudi Arabia, which led to a brief pause in arms sales. The government was found to have acted irrationally and unlawfully in its assessment process. However, this recent ruling exposes an ongoing issue with the UK export licensing process, according to CAAT. The government dismissed evidence of IHL violations unless they were reported by the Saudi-led Coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), whose reports were flagged as flawed and non-impartial.

CAAT’s media spokesperson, Emily Apple, expressed disappointment with the verdict and emphasised the group’s unwavering commitment to the Yemeni people. “The court’s ruling exposes the low threshold the government has to reach in order to sell weapons to regimes committing human rights violations… This verdict only strengthens our determination to continue finding ways to challenge these sales and ensure that this trade in death and destruction is stopped for good,” she said.

As the conflict continues, international organisations and human rights advocates remain deeply concerned about the implications of this ruling on the lives of Yemeni civilians.