June 20 (UPI) — A London court issued a historic legal decision Thursday to ban British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as part of an effort to stop the years-long violence wrought by civil war in Yemen.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade group accused London of selling arms despite evidence that they were being used to violate international humanitarian law. It asked the appellate court to weigh in on the matter.
In its ruling, the court said the government was wrong in a “significant respect” and ordered an inquiry to determine whether British munitions are killing Yemeni civilians.
At least 100,000 people have died so far in the Yemeni conflict, which began in 2015. During that time, Britain has sold at least $6 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia — 43 percent of London’s arms exports.
“This ruling is huge,” CAAT research coordinator Sam Perlo-Freeman told Al Jazeera. “It is historic in terms of the government’s approach to export licenses being found to be illegal and adds huge momentum to the campaign both in this country and internationally for a halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”
He called the Saudi-led war in Yemen the “worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.”
British master of the rolls Terence Etherton said the government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so.”
British trade secretary Liam Fox said the government will appeal the ruling.
“While we do this, we will not grand any new licenses for exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, which might be used in the conflict in Yemen,” Fox said.
Industry expert Anna Stavrianakis, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, said the decision begins the accountability process for Britain’s role in the war.
“Not only has the government spent four years providing diplomatic cover for the Saudi-led coalition’s abuses committed with U.K.- and U.S.- supplied weapons, it has also expanded significant amounts of energy in trying not to know, or be seen to know, about possible violations of international humanitarian law.”