Leigh Day writes to the Government over licences permitting UK arms to be sold to Saudi Arabia

Law firm Leigh Day, representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), is considering legal action against the UK Government unless it suspends all licences permitting UK produced arms to be sent to Saudi Arabia.

On 12 November 2015, Leigh Day wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) saying in light of alleged grave breaches of international humanitarian law that it was concerned about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, .

BIS replied on 10 December 2015, but it failed to reassure Leigh Day or CAAT that the UK government was following its own rules when assessing the risk that the goods exported might be used in contravention of IHL.

According to senior UN officials and respected NGOs, the military campaign in Yemen has involved substantial numbers of air strikes by the Saudi led coalition which appear to have targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure.

On 19 August 2015, Stephen O’Brien, the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reported to the UN Security Council, that the ‘scale of human suffering [in Yemen] is almost incomprehensible’

Condemning ‘attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure’, he asserted: ‘these attacks are in clear contravention of international humanitarian law.’

Commenting on the destruction of a hospital facility, the Country Director of Médecins Sans Frontières remarked on 27 October 2015: ‘the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided [the Coalition] with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago’.

On 10 November 2015, the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed that weapons manufactured in Britain are being used by Saudi Arabia.

It is thought the weapons include Paveway Precision Guided Missiles and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. Since the letter was sent, a new report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has alleged the Saudi-led coalition used a British-made missile to destroy a ceramics factory, a civilian object, on 23 September, 2015.

The letter from Leigh Day asked a number of questions of the UK Government including what measures are in place to ensure UK produced arms are not used in the commission of war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law and what, if any investigations, the UK government was undertaking to comply with its legal obligations.

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at Leigh Day, which is representing CAAT, said: “If there is a risk that arms from the UK could be used to commit serious breaches of international humanitarian law, and human rights law, then export licenses for these materials must be suspended immediately. If this is not done, we believe the Government’s current decision to keep supplying Saudi Arabia is unlawful.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the humanitarian catastrophe being unleashed on the people of Yemen. Thousands have died and essential infrastructure, including hospitals, has been destroyed.

“The UK has continued to support air strikes and provide arms, despite strong evidence that war crimes are being committed. The Saudi regime has an appalling human rights record at home and abroad and these arms sales should never have been approved in the first place.”