Italian arms exports to Yemen: State and corporate responsibility

27 October 2020, 11:00 am

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
Zossener Str. 55-58 (Staircase A, front house, 4th Floor), 10961 Berlin

Thousands of civilians have been killed in the armed conflict in Yemen, and millions have been left on the brink of starvation since September 2014, when Ansar Allah (as known as the Houthis) took control of the Yemeni capital Sana'a by force, and the Saudi/UAE-led coalition began its military campaign. During these six years of conflict, all warring parties in Yemen have committed grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Saudi Arabia and UAE-led military coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes against civilians and civilian infrastructure that may amount to war crimes. On 9 September 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council's Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen reiterated this finding while questioning the responsibility of arms suppliers – such as Italy – to parties to the conflict.

It has been established that military equipment manufactured in Italy is being used in the conflict in Yemen, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets (jointly produced by the Eurofighter Consortium in which Leonardo S.p.A is one if the major corporations involved) as well as the MK 80 series bombs (by RWM Italia S.p.A.), the remnants of which have been found at sites of potential war crimes in Yemen. This equipment is exported to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

In this context, ECCHR, Mwatana for Human Rights, and partner organizations including Rete Disarmo (now Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo) filed a communication with the International Criminal Court on 11 December 2019. It raised the question of the responsibility of Italian and European arms companies, as well as national authorities that issue export licenses, in the Yemen conflict. These nonprofit organizations call for an investigation into the alleged complicity of company executives in 26 air strikes that illegally killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools, hospitals and other protected objects.

Moreover, on 17 April 2018, ECCHR, Mwatana and Rete Disarmo filed a joint criminal complaint with the Italian Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, requesting an investigation on the criminal liability of RWM Italia S.p.A. executives and Italian government officials for arms exports to members of the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition. The case focused on the remnant of a MK80 bomb found at the site of an airstrike that targeted a family of six in the village of Deir Al-Hajari in October 2016. Four years have passed since this airstrike took place, and its victims are still awaiting justice. In September 2019, the prosecutor requested the case be dismissed. The claimants appealed this decision and a hearing before a judge is expected at the beginning of 2021.

As a response to the egregious human rights violations being committed in Yemen, in July 2019 the Italian government suspended all licenses for aerial bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE until January 2021. Disarmament organizations in Italy are calling for this to be extended, and broadened to include all types of armaments and address all members of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition.

This virtual conference will discuss questions including:

  • What role do Italian weapons play in the current conflict in Yemen?
  • Do arms export licenses exempt companies from criminal liability?
  • Can the Italian arms industry and government officials be held to account for their alleged complicity in war crimes committed in Yemen?
  • What are Italy’s international commitments regarding international arms exports and weaknesses its export control system?
  • What are the opportunities to broaden, both in length and scope, the current suspension of arms exports to the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition?

Speakers:

  • Bonyan Jamal, Accountability Specialist, Mwatana for Human Rights
  • Cannelle Lavite, Legal Advisor, Business and Human Rights, ECCHR
  • Francesco Vignarca, Campaign Coordinator, Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo  
  • Francesca Cancellaro, Lawyer, Studio legale Gamberini

Members of the Italian government, parliament and Italian NGOs working on the conflict in Yemen will be invited to participate in an open discussion with the public after the first round of expert presentations.

The event will be held in Italian and English with simultaneous interpretation.

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