European responsibility for war crimes in Yemen

Are RWM Italia and Italian arms export authority complicit in deadly Saudi-coalition airstrike?

Yemen – Arms exports – RWM Italia

On 8 October 2016, an airstrike allegedly by the Saudi-led military coalition struck the village of Deir Al-Ḩajārī in northwest Yemen. The attack killed a family of six, including the pregnant mother and four children.

At the site of the airstrike bomb remnants were found, and a suspension lug manufactured by RWM Italia SpA, a subsidiary of the German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG. In April 2018, ECCHR and its partners from Italy and Yemen called for an investigation into the criminal liability of the Italian authorities and RWM’s directors for arms exports. The preliminary investigations judge confirmed in February 2021 that the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office must continue the case. However, those responsible applied again to dismiss the case – and ECCHR filed an appeal against that step in March 2022.

A year later the Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome dismissed the case despite prove of violation of the Arms Trade Treaty. The judge did not consider the suspects prosecutable, as it could not be proven that the company profited from the abuse of power. According to the judge, the public officials had complied with the formal procedures of the arms export authorization process. The  decision not only denies those affected by the air strike access to justice and a fair trial, but also stands in stark contrast to the evidence gathered over years of investigation.

For the survivors, ECCHR and the partner organizations, it is clear: the Italian judiciary violated its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights with a misguided investigation and subsequent dismissal of the complaint. Therefore two relatives of victims and one survivor have filed a complaint against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights in July 2023.


The incident of Deir Al-Ḩajārī is well documented, as a field monitor of Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni partner organization of ECCHR attended the scene the day after.

At the site of the airstrike, bomb remnants were found, which indicate that the type of bomb used was a guided bomb of the MK80-family. Also in the rubble a suspension lug, which is needed to attach the bomb to the plane, was found. Its serial marks clearly indicate that it was manufactured by RWM Italia SpA, an Italian subsidiary of German Rheinmetall AG.

The dismissal of the case reduces major decisions about arms sales to mere bureaucratic formalities, regardless of the fact that arms trade directly impacts people's lives. It thus ignores both the violation of national and international norms concerning the arms trade, as well as the responsibilities of the company to ensure that its business practices are in compliance with international norms. Beyond that, this ruling ignores the alleged complicity of the suspects in the killing of six people during the airstrike on the village of Deir Al-Ḩajārī in 2016.


ECCHR, Mwatana, and Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo in cooperation with Osservatorio Permanente sulle Armi Leggere e le Politiche di Sicurezza e Difesa (OPAL), filed the criminal complaint against managers of RWM Italia and senior officials of Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA). The complaint alleges the criminal liability of the RWM Italia managers and UAMA officials for the export of at least a part of the deadly weapon used in the strike, to Saudi Arabia or another member state of the Saudi-led military coalition.

Despite major warnings that the coalition warfare in Yemen causes significant loss of civilian life and breaches of international humanitarian law, exports of bombs and other weapons to coalition member states had not stopped and are still taking place. In Italy, the competent Italian Authority for the Export of Armament authorizes these exports of armaments manufactured in Italy.



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War crimes

War crimes are serious breaches of international humanitarian law committed in armed conflict.

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War crimes

Attacks directed against civilians; torture of detainees; sexual slavery – when committed within the context of armed conflict, these and other grave crimes amount to war crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. While the system of international criminal justice makes it possible to prosecute war crimes, in many cases those responsible are not held to account.

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