Crowdfunder urging UK government to halt arms sales to groups actively engaged in warfare gains momentum

Criticism has also been made about the UK government’s failure to consult Parliament on the coordinated airstrikes on Yemen this week.

The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), a non-profit aimed at challenging injustice through legal action, has launched a campaign to urgently raise funds to challenge government decisions that enable UK arms to be sold to major war aggressors, including the Israeli Defence Force.

The ‘Disrupting illegal sales of UK arms’ campaign notes how, as the bombardment intensifies in Gaza, so do the ‘flow of Western weapons to Israel.’

In 2022, British arms exports doubled to a record £8.5bn in export licenses. The largest destination for British-made arms was Qatar, which accounted for £2.7bn worth of sales. 54 percent of UK weaponry went to countries designated as ‘not free’ by the human rights group, Freedom House, which included Saudi Arabia and Turkey. When the figures were released in May 2023, Sam Perlo-Freeman, a researcher at Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said that they showed the UK arms industry is “working overtime to arm some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, as well as countries engaged in armed conflict, with the UK government’s full approval.”

GLAN warns how these weapons, which are permitted to be sold to groups actively engaged in warfare under UK licensing laws, are being used to launch indiscriminate attacks on residential buildings, to bomb weddings and funerals, and to ‘violently oppress basic human rights.’

“We are working on a coordinated legal strategy challenging the UK through cases where arms have been sold to brutal militaries who flagrantly violate international law with impunity. We have already shown the court that British weapons are being used by Saudi Arabia to commit war crimes in Yemen,” says GLAN.

On December 6, 2023, the group’s case was filed with the High Court. It demonstrated a clear risk that UK weapons are being used in the commission of atrocities against civilians in Gaza. The government confirmed they had ‘reviewed’ export licenses to Israel, but Kemi Badenoch, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, made the decision to continue permitting exports to the Israeli military.

“This shocking decision comes as South Africa launched a case at the International Court of Justice alleging that Israel has committed genocide in Gaza,” GLAN continues.

The human rights group briefed MPs who attended the debate in the House of Commons on the sale of UK arms export licences to Israel.

Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, Tahir Ali, reiterated the legal obligation that the government has to ensure weapons sales are stopped: “It is abundantly clear…that there is more than ‘clear risk’ Israel is using these weapons provided by the UK to commit atrocious crimes against Palestinian people… shame on us all…that our government has been complicit,” he said.

John McDonald, Labour MP and former shadow chancellor, said: “We become complicit in those war crimes and that’s the reality of where we are at the moment.”

GLAN is preparing for a hearing in the coming months. Its crowdfunder has already raised over £10,000, as more and more people pledge their support to disrupt the sale of UK arms.

Criticism has also been made about the UK government’s failure to consult Parliament on the coordinated airstrikes on Yemen this week by Britain and the United States, which killed at least five people, and wounded six.

Jeremy Corbyn, a strong advocator of the peace movement, referred to the attack as a ‘reckless act.’

“Military action in Yemen by the UK and US government is a reckless act of escalation that will only cause more death and suffering.

“It is utterly disgraceful that Parliament has not even been consulted.

“When will we learn from our mistakes and realise that war is not the answer,” the former Labour leader posted on X.

LFF reached out to the Department for Business and Trade for commentary on the campaign to stop UK arms exports to oppressive regimes. A spokesperson said:

“The UK supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and take action against terrorism, provided it is within the bounds of International Humanitarian Law. 

“All our export licences are kept under careful and continual review and we are able to amend, suspend or revoke extant licences, or refuse new licence applications, where they are inconsistent with the UK’s Strategic Export Licensing Criteria.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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