Yemen war crimes: Human rights groups challenge Italy’s decision to dismiss criminal investigation of arms company executives and export authorities


Berlin/Rome/Sana’a – Three human rights organizations today appealed the decision by the Italian public prosecutor to dismiss a request to investigate the criminal liability of senior officials within Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA), as well as managers of RWM Italia S.p.A., for arms exports potentially connected to a deadly air strike on the village Deir Al-Ḩajārī in Yemen on 8 October 2016. The investigation request was initially filed in April 2018 by Mwatana for Human Rights (Yemen), Rete Pace e Disarmo (Italy) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights ECCHR (Berlin). Despite the fact that in February 2021 the judge in the preliminary investigations in Rome ordered the criminal investigation to be continued, the public prosecutor is unwilling to proceed. The appeal lodged by the complainants argues that there is sufficient evidence in the case to move directly to trial.

“Requesting the dismissal of the case after almost four years of investigations is a severe blow to all survivors of airstrikes that had no identifiable military target and killed and injured civilians. The murder of the Husni Family and the injuries suffered by one of the survivors, Fatima Ahmed, are not merely ‘collateral damage’ but the result of a deliberate attack on civilians. The potential risk that the weapons exported by RWM Italia could be used in unlawful attacks in Yemen was already widely known in 2015. If RWM Italia managers and UAMA officials are complicit in grave crimes committed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their partners, they must be held accountable,” the civil society organizations said in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Yemen in September 2014 and its escalation in March 2015, UN bodies, international NGOs and Yemeni organizations have documented repeated violations of international humanitarian law committed by the warring parties. Several of these reports have concluded that airstrikes carried out by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition may amount to war crimes. This incomprehensible decision by the Italian prosecutor demonstrates his unwillingness to investigate this case sufficiently. He refrained from investigating the role and responsibility of RWM Italia's corporate executives and limited the scope of his investigations to the offense of abuse of power by Italian export authorities. This completely overlooks the dimension of corporate accountability in the case, as well as the seriousness of the crime to which these arms exports may have contributed. “This decision further narrows the route to justice for the victims of the air strike. To this day, their relatives have not been able to rebuild their homes and lives again. They deserve a full-fledged investigation into Italy’s role in devastating Saudi/UAE-led coalition attacks,” stated Radhya Almutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights.

The prosecutor’s request for dismissal deliberately ignores key evidence gathered over the course of the investigations. It has been confirmed that the suspension ring manufactured by the company was part of a shipment transported to Saudi Arabia between 9 April and 15 November 2015, at a time when the international community was fully aware of the conflict situation in Yemen and had already condemned potential war crimes allegedly committed by the Saudi-led coalition. UAMA justifications for authorizing arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE included employment generation, as well as the financial condition of RWM Italia. As the judge in the preliminary investigations in Rome determined last year, the state's obligation to safeguard employment levels cannot justify a deliberate infringement of rules prohibiting arms exports to countries potentially responsible for serious war crimes.

To ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their role in war crimes, ECCHR also submitted a joint communication to the International Criminal Court in December 2019, together with Mwatana for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the Campaign Against Arms Trade, Centre Delàs  and Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo.

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Maria Bause
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