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UK apologises for Saudi arms sales in breach of court ruling

International trade secretary Liz Truss says she informed the Court of Appeal of 'inadvertent breaches'
The UN says Yemen is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe on the planet (Reuters/File photo)

The UK government has "unreservedly" apologised for authorising arms deals to Saudi Arabia in breach of a court ruling against the sale of weapons that could be used in the war in Yemen.

International trade secretary Liz Truss wrote to MP Graham Jones, chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, on Monday saying she informed the Court of Appeal of two "inadvertent breaches" to the 20 June ruling. 

The sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners include radio parts worth £435,450, according to the letter. 

"During the course of this investigation, all decisions made on licences for the export of military goods to KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and its Coalition partners will be subject to additional compliance processes to ensure that no further licences are issued in error for possible use in the conflict in Yemen," Truss wrote.

The June decision came after a complaint by lawyers for the London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) who argued that the sales are in breach of international humanitarian law because of the disproportionate harm the weapons cause to civilians.

In a judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government had made an error by failing to make an assessment of whether there was a risk that equipment sold to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been leading a military coalition against Yemen's Houthi rebels to restore the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Since the start of the coalition's intervention in March 2015, the war in Yemen has killed thousands of people, brought the country to the verge of famine and cause the spread of preventable diseases in what the United Nations has called the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet. 

On Monday, the Labour Party rejected Truss's apology, saying it was not enough.

"The people of the United Kingdom do not want to be complicit in fuelling the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Secretary of State must immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia," shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said in a statement

"Thousands of people have been killed in this war and it is staggering that the Trade Secretary thinks an apology will get her off the hook."