Aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen

Criminal complaint submitted against French arms companies


Paris/Sana’a/Berlin – Today, Mwatana for Human Rights, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Sherpa submitted a criminal complaint with the Paris Judiciary Tribunal against French arms companies with the support of Amnesty International France. The organizations are calling for the initiation of a criminal investigation into the arms companies Dassault Aviation, Thales, and MBDA France for their possible complicity in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen, potentially enabled by their arms exports to Saudi Arabia (SA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In March 2015, a military coalition led by SA and the UAE (the Coalition) began an aerial bombing campaign against Houthi and Saleh forces in Yemen. Until the recent ceasefire, for the last seven years the Coalition continued its air campaign, which has first and foremost taken its toll on civilians. The United Nations describes the conflict and its consequences as the “greatest humanitarian catastrophe” of our time, while international organizations, NGOs and experts have claimed for years that attacks by all warring parties, including the Coalition’s airstrikes, may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is an abundance of public documentation from international organizations indicating that throughout the conflict, the Coalition has conducted countless attacks on civilians, as well as civilian homes, markets, hospitals and schools.

“The coalition’s airstrikes have caused terrible destruction in Yemen. Weapons produced and exported by European countries, and in particular France, have enabled these crimes. Seven years into this war, the countless Yemeni victims deserve credible investigations into all perpetrators of crimes, including those potentially complicit. We’re hoping that French courts can play a role in starting to fill the current cavernous accountability gap in Yemen,” stated Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, Executive Director of Yemeni organization Mwatana for Human Rights.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of indiscriminate attacks on Yemeni civilians by the Coalition since 2015, France has delivered more than 8 billion euros worth of war materials, ammunition and maintenance services to SA and the UAE during the period from 2015 to 2020. It has been documented that French-produced fighter jets, as well as missiles and guidance systems produced by Thales and MBDA France, are used in the conflict in Yemen. The complaint submitted today argues that French companies, while fueling the conflict, may also be aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly perpetrated by the Coalition.

“It is paramount that those who aid and abet violations of international humanitarian law and international crimes are held to account, including western political and economic actors. Arms trade is not a neutral activity: companies are responsible for the human rights aspects of their exports and could be held criminally liable as accomplices if they persist in exporting arms while knowing that they could be used to commit crimes,” said Cannelle Lavite, Co-director of the Business and Human Rights department at ECCHR.

SA and the UAE are among the largest customers of the French arms industry. Beyond the likely illegality of these arms exports under the Arms Trade Treaty and other international norms that require states to ban arms exports in cases where there is a clear risk that they will contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law, it is necessary to establish whether these exports can entail criminal responsibility on the part of the actors who may contribute to such violations, including companies.

“Arms exports are fueling the conflict and the suffering of Yemeni civilians. By investigating the potential responsibility of economic actors in the crimes committed in Yemen, French justice could play a vital role in the fight against impunity and access to justice for those affected by international crimes” added Sandra Cossart, Executive Director at Sherpa.

Amnesty International France supported the development of this complaint by providing legal expertise and research assistance, as well as in-depth and credible information demonstrating how arms supplied to the Coalition may have been repeatedly used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. The organization has just completed a two-year campaign calling on France to increase transparency and establish parliamentary oversight of arms sales. “The current lack of transparency concerning the issuance of export licenses makes it virtually impossible to control the legality of the licenses and confront the state. While arms manufacturers tend to hide behind these licenses, they do not absolve them of their responsibility for their businesses’ impacts on human rights,” said Aymeric Elluin, Amnesty International France.

While the swift efforts undertaken by the international community to investigate potential war crimes committed in Ukraine should be applauded, we believe that a similar focus and urgency should be applied to ensure accountability for war crimes committed in all conflicts, wherever they take place.

In December 2019, Mwatana, ECCHR and a group of NGOs submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court, detailing 26 separate airstrikes by the military coalition that could be classified as war crimes. With today's complaint, the organizations reiterate the call for criminal accountability for arms exports that violate international rules and fuel the conflict. National jurisdictions have to play their part in holding those responsible to account.

Here you can find the press release in Arabic.

Further information:

To visualize how European arms industries and governments continue to profit from the war in Yemen by exporting weapons to SA and the UAE, Forensic Architecture, in cooperation with ECCHR, Yemeni Archive and Bellingcat, developed the interactive cartographic platform European arms in the bombing of Yemen. The platform demonstrates how the continued trade in weapons, despite the overwhelming documentation of violations, makes European companies and countries potentially complicit in alleged war crimes.

ECCHR has focused on the role of European arms companies and governments in the Yemen war for many years. In addition, ECCHR has filed numerous criminal complaints against European companies for their alleged complicity in crimes committed by repressive regimes or in war and crisis regions.

Who we are

To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck and other international human rights lawyers to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other human rights declarations and national constitutions, through legal means.

Together with those affected and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexual and gender-based violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.

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