In a report from April 2018, the UN describes the war in Yemen as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” one that has left over ten million people dependent on humanitarian aid to survive. Since 2015, thousands of civilians have been killed in the armed conflict; many more have died from famine and disease.
While human rights violations are committed by all conflict parties in Yemen, one of the main causes of civilian casualties are airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition, which launched its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015. Along with Saudi Arabia, the coalition also includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait and Sudan. Numerous reports by the UN and NGOs in Yemen and abroad document repeated and deadly attacks on civilian targets like hospitals, markets, schools and residential buildings.
Despite all of the reports, warnings and evidence that the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition breach international humanitarian law, European companies are among those selling arms to the coalition states – with authorization from their respective European government authorities.
Furthermore, since 2002, the US has been using targeted drone attacks in the name of “counter-terrorism” to kill people in Yemen suspected of being involved in terrorism. These strikes are not as “surgical” as the US claims, and often result in the deaths of civilians. So far, nobody has been able to legally put an end to the US drone strikes or the killings of the Yemeni civilian population.
This is why ECCHR and its partner organizations from Yemen and in Europe are using the law to ensure that companies (complaint against Italian arms producer RWM Italia, a subsidiary of German firm Rheinmetall AG), and state authorities (administrative complaint against the German government for the involvement of US air base Ramstein) are held accountable for their role in aiding and abetting to civilian deaths in Yemen.
Despite countless attacks on civilian homes, markets, hospitals and schools – conducted by the Saudi/UAE-led military coalition – transnational companies based in Europe continued and continue to supply Saudi Arabia and the UAE with weapons, ammunition and logistical support. European government officials authorized the exports by granting licenses.
In the summer of 2012, two members of the bin Ali Jaber family were killed and many survivors traumatized in a drone attack in the Yemeni village of Khashamir. The US Ramstein Air Base in Germany played an important role in the attack. The German government’s response has been to deny any knowledge of or responsibility for the death of these and other civilians from US drone attacks.
(Also) Sweden can play an important role in the fight against impunity for turture in Syria. This is why, in February 2019, nine torture survivors submitted a criminal complaint in Stockholm against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including for crimes against humanity.
The path to justice for war crimes and torture in Syria also leads through Europe. After Germany, Sweden and France, Austrian authorities have initiated investigations into the Syrian intelligence services’ role in systematic torture. This followed a criminal complaint submitted by 16 Syrians, ECCHR, and its partners to the public prosecutor in Vienna in May 2018.
The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture. This is why in March 2017, ECCHR, seven Syrian torture survivors and lawyers Anwar al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish submitted the first criminal complaint against high-level officials of the Syrian military intelligence service to the German Federal Prosecutor.
In Syria, the word Saydnaya has become a synonym for unimaginable torture, systematic degradation and mass executions. Together with four individuals who survived the torture in Saydnaya ECCHR has filed in Germany a criminal complaint against seven high-ranking Syrian military officials.
Eleven Syrian former employees of the French company Lafarge submitted a criminal complaint against Lafarge in 2016. By maintaining business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, the company may have contributed to the financing of the group, thereby making them complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Syrian intelligence services have been collecting without cause information about political opponents, members of the opposition and human rights activists. Spying often goes hand in hand with torture. Software from Western corporations may have played a role in the surveillance. In order to address this, transnational investigations have to be initiated.