Three former UK Supreme Court Justices call for a suspension of arms sales to Israel

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Photo: Former UK Supreme Court justices Lady Hale, Lord Wilson and Lord Sumption have signed a letter calling for the suspension of arms sales to Israel.

The Guardian reports: “Three former supreme court justices, including the court’s former president Lady [Brenda] Hale [and Lord Nicholas Wilson and Lord Jonathan Sumption], are among more than 600 lawyers, academics and retired senior judges warning that the UK government is breaching international law by continuing to arm Israel.”

The article continues: “The 17-page letter, which also amounts to a legal opinion, was sent on Wednesday evening and says: ‘…the sale of weapons and weapons systems to Israel… falls significantly short of your government’s obligations under international law.’”

On arming Israel, the letter further says: “The ICJ’s conclusion that there exists a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza has placed your government on notice that weapons might be used in its commission and that the suspension of their provision is thus a ‘means likely to deter’ and/or ‘a measure to prevent’ genocide.”

Notably, The Guardian also reports: “The findings of a YouGov poll, conducted before the [Israeli air] strike [that killed seven international humanitarian aid workers], suggested that the government and Labour are out of step with public sentiment, with a majority of voters – by 56% to 17% – in favour of an arms ban.”

Canadian government

While the Canadian government has now pledged to “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas”, it has also stated that, “Given the nature of the supply chain, suspending all open permits [arms exports approved prior to January 8] would have important implications for both Canada and its allies” and will therefore proceed.

Canadian unions

On April 2, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) issued a statement that says: “We urge the Canadian government to immediately suspend trade in arms and military equipment with Israel, in accordance with Canada’s legal obligations. Canada must impose an arms embargo to help end the horrors in Gaza.”

They also highlight: “Canada exports military equipment to Israel, including via the United States. This means that Canada is at risk of being complicit in the violence and human rights violations Israel is perpetrating in Gaza. Canada also imports military equipment from Israel, which anti-war groups argue supports Israel’s military industry and operations.”

Peace Brigades International continues to follow this situation and to “call on the international community to suspend the supply of arms to Israel.”

Excerpt from letter signed by more than 600 lawyers, academics and retired senior judges in the United Kingdom:

Suspend the provision of weapons/weapons systems to Israel

Rationale: The ICJ’s conclusion that there exists a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza has placed your Government on notice that weapons might be used in its commission and that the suspension of their provision is thus a “means likely to deter” and/or “a measure to prevent” genocide.

The provision of military assistance and material to Israel may render the UK complicit in genocide as well as serious breaches of IHL. Customary international law recognises the concept of ‘aiding and assisting’ an international wrongful act.

A State is complicit in the commission of genocide if: “its organs were aware that genocide was about to be committed or was under way, and if the aid and assistance supplied, from the moment they became so aware onwards, to the perpetrators of the criminal acts or to those who were on the point of committing them, enabled or facilitated the commission of the acts.”

On 23 February 2024, 34 UN experts called for the immediate cessation of weapons exports to Israel, including export licences and military aid, observing as follows:

“Such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting State does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law – or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way – as long as there is a clear risk.”

“The need for an arms embargo on Israel is heightened by the International Court of Justice’s ruling on 26 January 2024 that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and the continuing serious harm to civilians since then”, the experts said. The Genocide Convention of 1948 requires States parties to employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide in another state as far as possible. “This necessitates halting arms exports in the present circumstances”.

Continued arms exports to Israel moreover give rise to concerns regarding the United Kingdom’s compliance with its obligation under The Arms Trade Treaty.

Mechanism: The UK Government should suspend licensing arms for export to the Government of Israel. The UK’s Strategic Export Licencing Criteria (“SELC”) require the UK government to refuse to licence military equipment for export where there “is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The same principles apply where arms or military equipment might be used to commit or facilitate acts which constitute genocide.


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