Italian-made bombs in deadly airstrike in Yemen

Strasbourg Court has unprecedented opportunity to deliver justice to survivors


Relatives of victims and one survivor of a deadly airstrike in Yemen, conducted by the Saudi-led military coalition using Italian-made bombs, submitted a complaint against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The three applicants argue that the Italian judiciary failed to hold arms manufacturer RWM Italia S.p.a. and senior officials of Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA) accountable for the violation of their right to life, as set out in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The submission to the ECtHR comes in the wake of the dismissal by the judge in Rome of a criminal complaint filed by the applicants in 2018 against the accused corporate and state officials for their role in the supply of weapons which are used in unlawful airstrikes in Yemen. The complaint offers the ECtHR the unprecedented opportunity to ensure that European states provide access to justice for victims of war crimes committed with weapons produced in Europe. The applicants are supported by the human rights organizations Mwatana for Human Rights, Rete Pace e Disarmo and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

On 8 October 2016, the airstrike on the village Deir Al-Ḩajārī killed six members of the Husni family and injured one of the applicants. Bomb remnants found at the site of the attack confirmed that the bombs used in the unlawful air strike were manufactured by RWM Italia, a subsidiary of the firm German Rheinmetall AG. In addition, the prolonged period of export licensing issued by Italian authorities and the subsequent arms exports by RWM to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were in violation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

“The fact that an investigation into a case of manslaughter has not been opened, while thousands of war crimes have been committed against the people in Yemen, is shocking,” says Radhya Al-Mutawakel, chairperson and co-founder from Mwatana. “In the absence of justice, what is the value of legal norms such as international criminal law and international humanitarian law? When national and international arms trade regulations are not enforced, what is the point of having them if violators are not held accountable?”

The Saudi-led Coalition has conducted airstrikes since March 2015 that have killed over 9000 civilians, injured many more and destroyed civilian infrastructure. European countries, including Italy, fuel the conflict and profit from this suffering by providing bombs, missiles and fighter jets to the coalition. “The gap of impunity that benefits all actors in the conflict – including the European arms industry – must be closed. By refusing to investigate the responsibility of licensing authorities and companies whose armaments are linked to potential war crimes under its jurisdiction, Italy is not only legitimizing these arms exports and restricting access to justice for the victims, but is also violating its own obligations to protect the right to life enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights,” the human rights organizations explain jointly.

This new legal step by international civil society organizations comes against a political backdrop in Italy, in which the economic interests of arms manufacturers and foreign policy concerns once again outweigh assessments of the negative impacts of arms exports. After several years of blocking (along with the cancellation of licenses already issued for) the sale of Italian-made missiles and aircraft bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, due to their involvement in the conflict in Yemen, in recent weeks the Italian government has in fact decided to reverse this decision. This had come after strong pressure from civil society, which underscored the clear violation of national and international rules governing the arms trade that such a sale entailed. A dangerous and senseless choice, this reversal may still have negative impacts in the future, considering that the current situation in Yemen cannot be defined as one of peace.

As part of a broad network of organizations, Mwatana for Human Rights, Rete Pace e Disarmo and ECCHR have been working since 2018 to hold European actors accountable for their involvement in potential war crimes and human rights violations in Yemen. You can find an overview of legal interventions and information on the casework here.

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Dem Unrecht das Recht entgegensetzen – das ist das erklärte Ziel und die tägliche Arbeit des European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

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Maria Bause
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Philipp Jedamzik
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