The UK’s High Court has rejected claims that the British government acted illegally in failing to suspend the sale of armed weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The decision, announced Monday, brought an end to the case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which accused the UK government of supplying bombs and fighter jets which have been used by Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.
The judgment comes at a time where the British Prime Minister Theresa May has attracted criticism from activists for the country’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
Lawyers representing CAAT argued that allowing the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia contravened the UK’s arms export policy to issue licenses where there was a “clear risk” that the arms may be used to break international humanitarian law. The group says it will appeal the decision.
The verdict will come as a relief to the British government, which counts Saudi Arabia as its largest buyer of arms. The Gulf state has reportedly spent in excess of £3 billion ($3.9 billion) on UK weapons over the past two years.
According to the court, secret evidence, referred to as “closed material” and not made public on the grounds of national security, “provides valuable additional support for the conclusion that the decisions taken by the secretary of state not to suspend or cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia were rational”.
Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Arab states who are fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who toppled toppled the internationally recognized government there in early 2015.
According to the United Nations, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict.
Monday’s court ruling was criticized by several human rights groups including CAAT and Amnesty International.
“This is a very disappointing verdict, and we are pursuing an appeal,” Andrew Smith of CAAT said in a statement.
“If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.”
A spokesman for the British government said the judgment “underscores the fact that the UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.”
Yemen in crisis
War-torn Yemen is in the midst of a famine and cholera crisis.
There are more than 300,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and more than 1,600 people have died, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Monday.
According to the 2017 Yemen Humanitarian report, around 3.3 million children and pregnant or nursing women are suffering from acute malnourishment, including 462,000 children.