Last July, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) sought a High Court order to block export licenses for British-made fighter jets, bombs and other munitions it said were being used by Saudi forces in the war in Yemen. However, the court decided that the licenses were not unlawful.
Responding to the attempt by CAAT to overturn last summer’s verdict, the Court of Appeal said Friday the British government should “not grant a license if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
Campaigners will now be able to challenge the High Court decision that the government had not acted unlawfully or irrationally in refusing to block export licenses for sale and transfer of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
An activist with CAAT said his group believed the arms sales are immoral.
“The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has killed thousands of people and created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world,” Andrew Smith said after Friday’s judgment.
“Despite this, the Saudi regime has been armed and supported every step of the way by successive UK governments. We believe that these arms sales are immoral, and are confident that the Court of Appeal will agree that they are unlawful.”
Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a war on Yemen in March 2015 to reinstall its former Riyadh-allied government. The military aggression has so far killed over 13,600 Yemenis.
The issue of Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and its support for the Saudi aggression in Yemen, has become more controversial as the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict has displaced more than 2 million people and caused a cholera epidemic that has infected about 1 million people. The United Nations says food shortages have created the world’s worst famine in Yemen.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has defended her government’s weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, saying all such sales are strictly regulated.
The issue has provoked heated debate in parliament, with the main opposition Labour Party accusing the government of being complicit in civilian deaths in Yemen.
“It cannot be right that the government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told parliament in March.
Britain sells billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, by far its largest weapons buyer. There was a sharp increase last year in licenses that critics such as shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry described as being completed “behind closed doors, and shrouded in secrecy.”
The UK Department for International Trade said it would defend last July’s High Court verdict.