In Italy, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Yemen-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, and the Italian-based Rete Italiana per Il Disarmo jointly filed a criminal complaint in a public prosecutor's office. The complaint names both an Italian arms manufacturer and the Italian government agency that approves arms exports. The organizations want to prove that Italian weapons were used in an illegal airstrike in Yemen and investigate Italy’s criminal liability for the attack.
On 8 October 2016, the Saudi-led coalition allegedly conducted an airstrike in Deir al-Haj, a village in northwestern Yemen. The attack killed 6 people, including a pregnant mother and her four children. Mwatana documents illegal acts carried out by warring parties, and investigated this strike the day after it occurred. Among the rubble they found a suspension lug (a part used to connect bombs to planes) with a serial number from the Italian defense company RMW Italia S.p.A., a subsidiary of the German company Rheinmetall Defence. Mwatana provided this information to ECCHR, and ECCHR is now leading the legal proceedings.
“The on-going arms exports by European countries further the killing, while corporations like German Rheinmetall AG and its Italian subsidiary RWM Italia S.p.A. benefit from this business. At the same time exporting countries provide humanitarian aid to the very population targeted by these arms. The hypocrisy is stunning, and persists due to a failing implementation of the European legal framework on arms export control in relation to human rights”, says ECCHR’s Vice Legal Director Miriam Saage-Maaß. “An investigation into the criminal liability for these arms exports and their authorizations is therefore of paramount importance.”
The Saudi-led coalition has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen, and provoked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Despite the UN finding numerous coalition airstrikes to be in violation of international humanitarian law, several European countries — as well as the United States — continue to export arms to the coalition. Thus far, no foreign actor has been sanctioned, prosecuted, or successfully sued for their involvement in the conflict. The criminal complaint filed by ECCHR seeks to construct a system of accountability, and find justice for the victims in Yemen.
The ECCHR, Mwatana and Rete Italiana per Il Disarmo ultimately want to stop the sale of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition relies on the military support of other countries; if this military assistance were to end, the coalition would have an incentive to find a peaceful end to the war. International actors must recognize they are prolonging this war and increasing suffering by supplying weapons. These actors also have the power to promote peace by stopping arms exports to the coalition, but they need to be pushed to do so.