The Arms Trade Litigation Monitor documents, monitors developments, and analyses the outcomes of arms trade litigation with a view to raising awareness of the impact, as well as the limits, of efforts to achieve accountability for international arms transfers by legal means.
The Devastating Impact of Arms Supplies
The well-established arms-supply relationships that routinely provide and maintain conventional arms for use in the protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as well as other realities of structural violence and internal repression, have devastating consequences for the lives and livelihoods of communities and the infrastructure on which they rely for basic needs, with catastrophic developmental impacts.
All parties to the conflict in Yemen have committed widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, causing immense human suffering. By the beginning of 2022, there had been over 377,000 estimated deaths as a direct and indirect result of the hostilities. The war has also displaced an estimated four million civilians with at least 20.7 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance, and destroyed over 40 per cent of all housing in cities.
About the Initiative
The Arms Trade Litigation Monitor documents and monitors developments in domestic and international arms-trade related litigation, analysing their impact on ATT implementation as well as their implications for the accountability of arms-suppliers.
National, regional, and international political and legal instruments exist to prevent the kinds of atrocities that have been seen in Yemen and elsewhere. This includes the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force in December 2014, months before the armed conflict in Yemen began. The Treaty strictly prohibits transfers of arms when the transferring state has knowledge at the time of authorisation that the items would be used in grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, genocide, crimes against humanity or certain war crimes by the receiving state (Article 6). The Treaty further restricts transfers on the basis of risk that the arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international law (Article 7). Despite the applicability of both Articles 6 and 7 to several ongoing conflict situations, major arms-supplying states, who have incorporated these international standards into their national law, continue to enable and fuel conflict and perpetuate suffering by exporting arms to warring parties, most notably in the context of the Yemen conflict.
In response to the catastrophic scale of human harm to which these exports are contributing, an increasing number of social movements, human rights advocates, and legal practitioners have been turning to the law to stop arms supplies that fuel and exacerbate armed conflict, most of which currently focus on Yemen. Litigation has now been launched against state and corporate actors in at least nine national jurisdictions, in addition to a legal intervention made before the International Criminal Court. These legal challenges seek to promote transparency for highly violative arms exports, so as to enable public scrutiny and offer accountability and redress to affected communities for the role of state and corporate arms suppliers and (albeit indirectly) the perpetrators of serious violations of international law. Several states involved who receive arms from Western states have also been accused of committing human rights abuses against their own population, which have been challenged in several of the proceedings and are increasingly coming under scrutiny by the courts.
This initiative builds on the 2021 report “Domestic Accountability for International Arms Transfers: Law, Policy and Practice”, published by the site creators and based on collaborative research undertaken by a consortium of peace movements, human rights organisations and legal practitioners. It aims to raise awareness of ongoing and increasing efforts to challenge problematic arms-supply relationships through legal action, highlight their critical role in regulating the involvement of foreign actors in situations of armed conflict and violence, and maximise their potential impact, both for individual export relationships and towards the progressive development of the law in this area.
The Arms Trade Litigation Monitor:
- Documents and tracks legal challenges to international arms transfers, including court cases, complaints and other legal interventions at the domestic, regional or international level, most of which so far relate to the Yemen war;
- Provides updates on key developments in existing cases and other interventions both within and outside the courts such as parliamentary inquiries and motions;
- Documents proceedings in new cases, including those that might emerge in other national jurisdictions and beyond the context of Yemen;
- Provides commentary and analysis of legal interventions and related initiatives to reform and improve the regulation of international arms transfers by courts, parliaments and regional and international bodies;
- Identifies common hurdles and barriers faced across various domestic jurisdictions and international fora so as to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, development of ‘best practices’ and joint efforts; and
- Aims to develop and resource further legal interventions including but not restricted to the Yemen context.
This site is a joint initiative of Saferworld and the Emergent Justice Collective, with the support of the International Commission of Jurists.
Saferworld is an independent international organisation working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives. Saferworld has been active on arms trade issues for 30 years, and has worked with governments, parliaments and civil society, to develop national, regional, and international controls on the cross-border transfer of arms. We do this by advising and engaging with governments to hold them to their obligations and encourage the progressive development of robust and transparent arms controls rooted in international law. Saferworld’s Arms Unit established the ATT Expert Group in December 2014. This informal group brings together government and civil society representatives in order to discuss critical and emerging issues of ATT implementation.
A feminist leadership-based collective of lawyers and advocates with extensive experience in the international justice space that seeks to nurture the emergent counterculture to dominant institutionalised approaches and practices of international justice by collaboratively designing and pursuing movement-centered litigation and legal advocacy strategies that centre intersectionality and structural change of the oppressive systems at the root of global injustices. Our work to investigate, expose, and challenge global injustices also aims to transform the relationship between international(ised) justice actors, and to further inclusive, participatory, and redistributive decision-making in accountability processes.
Composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) promotes the Rule of Law and legal protection of human rights, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law; secure the realisation of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers; and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession.
Project Leads: Harriet Macey (Saferworld), Dr Valentina Azarova (Emergent Justice Collective) and Roy Isbister (Saferworld)
Project Advisers: Dr Vito Tondeschini (ICJ) and Ian Seideman (ICJ)
Content Advisers: With special thanks to representatives from the peace movement organisations, NGOs and legal practitioners leading each of the cases for their invaluable guidance, input and support in the development of the information and materials available on this site relating to their respective cases.
- Belgium: Hans Lammerant (Vredesactie) and Vincent Letellier (Respublica Avocats)
- Canada: Daniel Turp (Montreal University)
- ECtHR: Laura Duarte-Reyes (ECCHR)
- France: Laurence Greig, Benoit Muracciole (ASER), and Matteo Bonaglia (Tricaus Avocats)
- Italy: Laura Duterte, Cannelle Lavite, and Christian Schliemann-Radbuch (ECCHR)
- ICC: Cannelle Lavite (ECCHR)
- Netherlands: Rosa Beets and Jelle Klaas (PILP) and Michel Uiterwaal (PAX)
- South Africa: Atilla Kisla (SALC) and Michael Marchant (Open Secrets)
- Spain: Lorena Ruiz-Huerta and Sara Del Rio (Greenpeace Spain)
- UK: Sam Perlo-Freeman and Katie Fallon (CAAT), Erin Alcock (Leigh Day), and Conor McCarthy (Monckton Chambers)
- USA: Lauren Maltese and Justin Russell (NYCFPA), Matt Collette (Massey and Gail LLP), and Terrence Collingsworth (International Rights Advocates)
- Associated Cases: Jonathan Lowy (Global Action on Gun Violence) and León Castellanos-Jankiewicz (Asser)
Additional thanks to those who inspired and supported the creation of the briefing “Domestic Accountability for International Arms Transfers” and who continue to shape broader discussions around arms trade accountability.
Website Design and Development: Clear Honest Design
All errors remain those of the site’s creators. We welcome all feedback and suggestions, get in touch here.
This website is made possible by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation. We are also grateful to the German and Swiss governments for their generous financial support for the production of the initial report and ongoing support for Saferworld’s ATT Expert Group project.