Court rules U.K. must reconsider arms sales to Saudi Arabia

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By Reuters and Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) spokesman Andrew Smith talks to t
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith outside the Court of Appeal in London.   -   Copyright  Simon Dawson

LONDON — Britain's government broke the law by allowing weapons to be sold to Saudi Arabia that may have been used in the Yemen war, a British court ruled Thursday.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of anti-weapons campaigners, who argued that the sales should not have been allowed because there was a risk that the weapons might be used in violation of international humanitarian law.

Campaign Against Arms Trade says British bombs and fighter jets are fueling violence in Yemen, where a Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels has raged since 2015.

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"The Court of Appeal has concluded that the process of decision-making by the government was wrong in law in one significant respect," judge Terence Etherton said as he handed down the ruling.

Three judges said the British government had "made no attempt" to find out whether the Saudi-led coalition had breached international law.

But the court's ruling does not mean arms-sales licenses must be suspended, only that the government "must reconsider the matter."

A British government spokeswoman said: "This judgment is not about whether the decisions themselves were right or wrong, but whether the process in reaching those decisions was correct."

"We disagree with the judgment and will be seeking permission to appeal," the spokeswoman added.

Britain is the world's sixth largest seller of arms, after the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Saudi Arabia accounted for 43 percent of Britain's global arms sales in the past decade.

The United Nations has described the conflict in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people, including thousands of civilians, as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

A Western-backed alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally-recognized government to power after the Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people and has put 10 million people at risk of famine and the world's worst cholera epidemic.