Government faces legal action over arms export licences to Israel

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The UK Government is being threatened with legal action unless it stops sending arms to Israel and conducts a review of its current arms export licences.

Law firm Leigh Day, representing, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), an organisation campaigning to end the international arms trade, has written to the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills stating that the failure by the UK government to suspend existing licences for the export of arms to Israel is unlawful as there is a risk these arms may be used in Gaza.

Since 2010, the UK has reportedly granted 131 licences worth over £41.5 million to British arms manufacturers, to export military hardware, and military communications equipment to Israel. Licensed goods include components of unmanned aerial vehicles or ‘drones’, military radars, targeting systems and electronic warfare equipment.

The review of these licences was announced by the Prime Minister on 4 August 2014 and concluded on 12 August 2014.

Following the review, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills stated that no existing licences would be suspended or revoked unless the current ceasefire is broken, even though it identified twelve licences for components, which could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza in violation of international law.

However, the definition of a what constitutes a ‘broken’ ceasefire leading to a resumption of hostilities is not defined or explained and CAAT is concerned that arms manufactured in Britain, may have been, and may continue to be, used in serious breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has indicated that grave breaches of international humanitarian law and other serious breaches of international law may have occurred during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ launched on 8 July 2014 against the population of Gaza.

UN Human Rights Council investigations are currently underway. The letter to Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, sent on Friday 15 August 2014, provides the air strike on a UN School in Rafah as an example of such a breach.

The attack on the UN School reportedly by Israeli troops, resulted in the deaths of ten civilians. The Secretary General of the UN called it a “gross violation of international humanitarian law” and a “moral outrage and a criminal act.”

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing CAAT, said: "If arms from the UK are being used to commit crimes against humanitarian law and human rights law, then export licences for these materials must be revoked immediately. If this is not done, the Government’s current policy is unlawful and susceptible to legal challenge

"We have asked the Government to clarify the review of the arms export licences and requested details of all current licences to understand what is being sent so we can get a better picture of whether any of the arms supplied by the UK have been, or may be, used in criminal acts."

Ann Feltham, Parliamentary Co-ordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "After the slaughter of recent weeks, it beggars belief that the UK government is continuing to allow the export of components which it admits could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza. Such equipment containing UK components has been used in Israeli attacks in the past and the licences should never have been granted in the first place.

"This is another example of the UK government doing everything possible to facilitate arms sales, overlooking human rights and conflict considerations."

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