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Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and Oxfam join legal challenge to UK arms sales to Israel

The organisations will now be able to provide evidence and testimony in High Court claim which seeks to halt the exports
Protesters outside the High Court in London in April call for an end to UK arms sales to Israel (MEE/Dania Akkad)

Three leading British human rights organisations can join a judicial review in the High Court of the UK government’s continued approval of arms sales to Israel, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Oxfam will now be able to provide evidence and testimonies in the claim launched by the UK-based Global Legal Action Network and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, which seeks to halt arms exports to the country.

The development comes days after data released from the Department for Business and Trade revealed that no licenses for the exports of UK arms to Israel have been revoked, nor have any applications been refused since the Hamas-led attacks on 7 October.

The government has issued more than 100 export licences for arms transfers to Israel since 7 October and the end of May, the data also showed.

Lawyers for the Department for Business and Trade had sought to block HRW and Amnesty International, which filed a joint application, from intervening in the case.

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In their application, the two organisations countered that they had “several decades” of relevant experience, were “better placed in terms of capacity and resources” than GLAN and Al Haq to compile material for the court and that their input would not be duplicative.

All three organisations said they welcomed the decision and looked forward to presenting their evidence in court.

“We’ve always believed it was vital that the court has the fullest opportunity to review expert human rights evidence from ourselves and Human Rights Watch," said Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief excutive.

“Our evidence demonstrates the gap between the Israeli military and political leadership’s policies and practices and their legal obligations, and shows how this gap has resulted in Israeli forces repeatedly committing grave breaches of international humanitarian law."

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Yasmine Ahmed, Human Rights Watch’s UK director, said: “In the face of Israel’s ongoing crimes in Gaza, the UK government presents the nonsensical argument that it is lawful to continue sending arms to Israel on the basis that Israel is committed to complying with international law. Our evidence shows the exact opposite."

Halima Begum, Oxfam's chief executive, said her organisation had witnessed first-hand "the devastation the Israeli military has caused to families in Gaza and to vital infrastructures".

"Oxfam has been systematically prevented from getting life-saving aid into the enclave, and our staff and partners face a constant threat to their lives while trying to sustain basic humanitarian operations," Begum said.

The Department for Business and Trade did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Under its arms exporting criteria, the British government is obligated to suspend licences for arms exports if it determines that there is a clear risk that British weapons might be used in violations of international law.

GLAN and Al Haq argued in December that, based on their assessment of evidence they had compiled, that threshold of risk had "long passed". 

The government has said that it responds quickly to international circumstances and that licences are kept under "careful and continual review" and can be amended, suspended, refused or revoked "as circumstances require".

The expedited case is due to be heard in October.

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