Yemen: Western arms being used for ICC crimes?

Civil society is calling on arms-producing governments to stop supplying weapons potentially being used to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen, where mounting civilian deaths and casualties have prompted the UN human rights chief to call for an international investigation.

“It is outrageous that states have continued to supply the Saudi Arabia-led coalition with weapons, including guided and general purpose aerial bombs and combat aircraft, despite stark evidence that those arms are being used to attack hospitals and other civilian objects and in other serious violations of international humanitarian law.” said Amnesty International.

The UN reported that Saudi-led airstrikes in northern Yemen last week killed 30 people, making it the deadliest attacks since peace talks collapsed a month ago. Amnesty International reports that a US made bomb was used in an air strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital on 15 August, killing 11 civilians. Human Rights Watch found that Saudi Arabia used US-made cluster munitions near civilian areas in the country.

“It is extremely concerning that many transfers are still continuing, in particular the governments of the United States, the UK and France have authorized and are continuing to export very large quantities of weapons, including explosive weapons, bombs which are being used daily against civilians in Yemen,” said Anna MacDonald, director of the Control Arms Coalition.

France authorized arms licenses worth $18 billion to Saudi Arabia last year, followed by the United States at $5.9 billion and Britain’s $4 billion, according to the Control Arms Coalition.

In 2014, 155 states voted in the UN General Assembly to adopt the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to hold states accountable for the international transfer of weapons and munitions when it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes individual perpetrators for such crimes, prohibits facilitating, aiding, abetting or otherwise assisting the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The ICC can prosecute citizens of its member states for suspected grave crimes irrespective of the location of their commission.

“The ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

At the second Conference of States Parties to the ATT last month, governments avoided discussion of arms transfers that are in violation of the ATT – particularly with regard to transfers to Saudi Arabia in the context of the Yemen crisis.

“We are appalled that this high-level conference on arms control has failed to address the war crimes committed against civilians in Yemen using arms supplied by Arms Trade Treaty States Parties and Signatories,” said Anna Macdonald, Control Arms Director. “The ATT was created to stop these kinds of arms sales. It has the potential to save lives – but only if States adhere to it.”

Independent investigation into alleged breaches of humanitarian law in Yemen are increasing with the Dutch government having requested an inquiry at a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva on Monday.

The BBC Newsnight programme reported a leaked draft report by a cross-party Committee on Arms Export Controls which said that the UK should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while actions in Yemen are investigated, also stating that it is “highly likely that weapons had been used to violate IHL and human rights laws”.

Yemen’s conflict pits the internationally recognized government, which is allied with a Saudi-led military coalition, against Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to a former president.

Between March 2015 and 23 August 2016, an estimated 3,799 civilians have been killed and 6,711 injured as result of the war in Yemen. At least 7.6 million people, including three million women and children are currently suffering from malnutrition and at least three million people have been forced to flee their homes.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, last month called for the establishment of an international, independent body to carry out comprehensive investigations in the country. His call came as his office released a report on the situation of human rights in Yemen which outlines a number of serious allegations of violations and abuses committed by all sides to the conflict.