On the Ninth Anniversary of the Saudi-led Coalition Military Campaign: Discussing The Reality and

Challenges of Accountability Efforts for European Arms in the Yemen War

Thursday, March 28, 2024
On the Ninth Anniversary of the Saudi-led Coalition Military Campaign: Discussing The Reality and

On the ninthanniversary of the onset of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition military campaign inYemen, Mwatana for Human Rights, in collaboration with the European Center forConstitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), convened a panel discussion on therealities and challenges surrounding accountability efforts concerning Europeanarms in the Yemen conflict.

The gathering delved into the issue of European arms and theYemeni war, alongside exploring legal strategies aimed at tackling impunity.Notable speakers included Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih, Vice Chairperson of Mwatanafor Human Rights; Francesca Cancelleri, Partner Lawyer at the European Centerfor Constitutional and Human Rights; Laura Daortiz, Legal Advisor for theBusiness and Human Rights Program at the European Center for Constitutional andHuman Rights; and Khawla Al-Ruwishan from the Accountability and Redress Unitat Mwatana for Human Rights.

Francesca Cancelleri expressed her delight in participating andcollaborating with Mwatana, noting its commitment to the highest professionalstandards. She also discussed the legal actions taken in partnership withMwatana for Human Rights to document violations against civilians in Yemen.Specifically, she addressed the cases filed against European arms manufacturersthat exported weapons to the Saudi/UAE-led military coalition in Yemen, as wellas the entities responsible for issuing export licenses to these companies inseveral European countries.

Cancelleri pointed out that the legal action accompanying thisissue faced numerous challenges, as it was difficult to track the export ofweapons from origin to use due to the scarcity of available information."In terms of legal action, we worked on representing the victims andholding the parties accountable. As a result of the investigation we conducted,we were able to file two cases with the prosecutor in Rome. However, theinvestigation halted in February 2021, as the preliminary investigating judge declinedto further pursue the case, and the prosecutor was unable to continue thecriminal investigation... After five years of investigation, the judge in Romedecided in 2023 to close the investigation with a red candle," she said,noting that the export of these weapons under Italian law is consideredillegal.

She also emphasized that the obstacles that halted the progressof the case in the Italian judiciary did not deter the efforts made in thisregard. She said, "In July 2023, we decided to take our case to theEuropean Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. We pursued legal action in partnership with Mwatanaand lodged a complaint against Italy for violating Article 2 of the Arms TradeTreaty. This complaint allows the Court in Strasbourg to make bold decisions,cementing the right of victims to access justice. It is our commitment as anorganization, as there is a significant difference in the interpretation ofthis law before and after we filed the complaint with the Court."

Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih, Vice Chairperson of Mwatana for HumanRights, affirmed that parties to the conflict in Yemen have committed warcrimes and atrocities over the past nine years. These include crimesperpetrated with the latest weapons produced by Europe, the United States,Britain, and France, as well as others with old, indiscriminate, and unguidedweapons (World War II weapons) used during the conflict in various Yemeniregions. He pointed out that over recent years, exhaustive efforts have beenmade to pursue all avenues of accountability both in Europe and beyond. Severalcases have been filed, including one before the Prosecutor of the InternationalCriminal Court, which has seen no progress to date, along with another casebefore the Prosecutor General in France.

Al-Faqih stated, "There are significant gaps inlegislation; international humanitarian law is outdated and does not encompassmany developments in modern conflicts." He added, "Mwatana alone hasdocumented over a thousand airstrikes from the onset of the coalition'soperations in Yemen until today, targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.They struck people in their homes, markets, schools, and hospitals; virtuallyno civilian objects were spared. Yet, there has been no accountability measurestaken against the coalition, its leadership, arms manufacturers, or any partyresponsible for these heinous crimes."

Al-Faqih emphasized, "If there were accountability for theviolations committed in Yemen, we would not witness the same atrocitiesrecurring in Ukraine, nor would we witness the same atrocities and crimesrecurring in Sudan, and we would not witness the same atrocities and crimessubsequently committed in the Gaza Strip by Israel."

Al-Faqih expressed his astonishment at the double standardsapplied in dealing with cases of trading arms used to kill civilians in Yemenand elsewhere. He said, "There is a competition to monopolize the tools ofdeath and killing; the West, specifically, through United Nations mechanisms,works to ban the sale of Iranian, North Korean, or Russian weapons to warringparties, yet fails to impose a ban on the sale of American, British, or Frenchweapons? It's as if killing with American and Western weapons is somehowpermissible, akin to what happens in the Gaza Strip and the unequivocal supportfor Israel in its crimes against Palestinians!"

Al-Faqih clarified that the current international systemguarantees impunity, shielding war criminals and perpetrators of war crimes andcrimes against humanity during conflicts. It emboldens leaders like Putin andBenjamin Netanyahu and all violators to commit further human rights abuses. Heasserted that violations are not only committed with weapons supplied byWestern countries but also facilitated by political, diplomatic, and legalcover. There are responsibilities beyond arms trade, he emphasized.

He also stressed that "there are duties on the EuropeanUnion - and on international actors who continuously claim to respect humanrights principles and principles of international humanitarian law - extendingbeyond the issue of halting arms exports. These duties include supporting aninternational criminal mechanism still urgently needed for investigation andaccountability for crimes committed in Yemen, regardless of the type of weaponsused in these crimes. There is also a responsibility to impose sanctions onthose involved in human rights violations in Yemen and in multiplecountries."

Regarding de-escalation in Yemen, Al-Faqih stated that gains forcivilians have been achieved in recent months, but unfortunately, manyviolations continue to be committed by all parties. The situation remainsextremely fragile and prone to collapse at any moment, which is undesired, asmillions of civilians deserve peace, security, and protection from allviolations.

In the same context, Laura Daortiz (Legal Advisor for Businessand Human Rights Program at the European Center for Constitutional and HumanRights) addressed the nature of legal proceedings and criminal responsibilityof actors committing crimes against civilians in Yemen, while also pointing outthe efforts made in holding the perpetrators accountable.

She mentioned that "among hundreds of airstrikes documentedby Mwatana and others, we sorted out 26 airstrikes from those carried out bythe Saudi-led coalition, containing evidence proving that these airstrikestargeted residential buildings, schools, hospitals, museums, and historicalsites, with no military objectives present, thus establishing a pattern ofindiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian objects by thecoalition."

Daortiz clarified that nearly half of the airstrikes conductedby the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, since the start of its military operations inYemen in March 2015, involved European weapons, indicating "atransboundary international aspect to this issue, which indeed complicatesmatters. We need to refer to international law, hence our approach to theInternational Criminal Court as it embodies an international legal recourse...We will continue working towards achieving justice in Yemen."

In the same vein, Khawla Al-Ruwishan delved into theramifications of the Israeli war on Gaza on the situation in Yemen and theprospects for peace, encapsulating them in three main facets:

Firstly, she addressed the impact of this war on the globaleconomy, including the decline in international funding for grants directedtowards Yemen, a country facing one of the worst humanitarian crises globally.This reduction reflects on the volume of humanitarian aid relied upon by nearlytwo-thirds of Yemen's population, along with the rise in transportation andfuel prices, which will adversely affect Yemenis' access to food, healthcare,and other essential services.

The second aspect revolves around the entry of the Ansar Allah (Houthi)group as one of the key conflict parties, engaging in operations against shipsassociated with Israel in the Red Sea, alongside American and British attackson various Yemeni sites under the pretext of deterring the Ansar Allah (Houthi)group and securing international navigation. This development undermines peaceefforts in Yemen, potentially leading to further violations, prolonging theconflict, and even reverting it to earlier stages, possibly expanding its scopeto include the region and beyond. Given the centrality of the Palestinian issueto Yemenis, it presents an opportunity for mobilization and enlistment,including the recruitment of children under the age of eighteen, with areasunder the group's control witnessing an increase in recruitment rates sinceOctober 7, 2023.

The third aspect pertains to the reclassification of the Houthigroup as a terrorist organization, which may thwart the prospects fornegotiations with the group, endangering UN-facilitated peace efforts due tothe cessation of negotiations before reaching final solutions. This scenariowould impact the livelihoods of the population due to potential restrictions oninternational remittances, trade, and humanitarian aid. In fact, this impact iscatastrophic on Yemen's populace while negligible on the Houthi group or itsstatus.

Al-Ruwishan affirmed, "Theattacks by the Houthis on ships are closely linked to the situation in Gaza. Toeffectively resolve this matter, it must be approached within the context ofGaza. Any efforts to tackle this problem in isolation from the Gaza situationwill be ineffective."