UK ministers sued over arms sales to Israel
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq filed what it called a historic lawsuit against senior UK officials over British arms exports to Israel.
The lawsuit argues that the British government is obligated under international law not to render assistance to a state that is violating the law, citing Israel’s alleged violations of international humanitarian law during the three-week war in Gaza.
Al-Haq said in a statement that it is filing the legal proceedings at the High Court of Justice in London on Tuesday morning. The suit names Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband, Defense Secretary John Hutton and former Secretary of Trade & Industry (now Secretary of State for Business Enterprise), Peter Mandelson.
Solicitor Phil Shiner of the group Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) is filing the application for legal review on behalf of Al-Haq.
In the first quarter of 2008, Al-Haq said, the UK approved a massive increase in arms exports to Israel. The amount approved was 20 million British pounds. By way of comparison, the amount approved for the whole of 2004 was 12 million pounds.
“Considering the UK’s historical role in the region and its continued arms sales to Israel, Al-Haq has come to the UK with the belief that the judicial system of the UK will provide, at the very least, hope for the Palestinian people and again provide meaning to the principle of justice and international law,” said Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq.
“The time for hiding behind words has ended,” he added.
"The UK has clear international law obligations to do something effective to stop Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians,” said Shiner, who is leading the case on behalf of Al-Haq.
“The point of this case,” he added, “is to make the Government focus on what it is legally obliged to do, beyond ineffective hand-wringing pleas for Israel to behave properly, which, to date, have fallen on deaf ears."
A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London responded by saying that “the series of claims made by PIL are wholly inapt for resolution in domestic legal proceedings. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this at this stage.”
“We have made clear that credible allegations of war crimes and serious violations of international obligations by either side in the conflict should be investigated," the FCO added in a prepared statement.
The FCO also asserted that “Britain has some of the tightest regulations in the world for arms sales. The Government monitors the situation in Israel with care in considering applications for arms export licenses. Each application is considered on its merits carefully considering and applying the Criteria (Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria).”
“When there is a clear risk that proposed exports might be used for internal repression, or would be used aggressively against another country, a license will be refused. Any evidence of the IDF methods or tactics during Operation Cast Lead will be taken into account in assessing such risks in considering relevant license applications.
The British government also argued that the increase in arms sales to Israel was not significant. The FCO said, "the increase in figures was due to a single approval, in January 2008, of one license for high value naval communications equipment."
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