Arms in Yemen at the European Court of Human Rights
Armed Conflict in Yemen
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
Following the dismissal of a criminal complaint brought in Italy against arms manufacturer RWM Italia S.p.A and senior officials of Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA), victims of the 8 October 2016 airstrike in Deir Al-Ḩajārī, Yemen brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The case was brought in response to the Italian state’s failure to hold the aforementioned defendants accountable for the violation of their ‘right to life’. European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2
The complaint calls for the ECtHR to ensure that European states provide access to justice for victims of war crimes committed with weapons produced in and exported from Europe. It relies on the fact that the Italian state has not honoured its obligations under the ‘right to life’ by failing to investigate crimes of homicide and personal injury as well as not suspending the exports of weapons that could be used to commit war crimes and violate international human rights law, despite the public official’s awareness of the clear risk that such weapons could be used in violation of IHRL and IHL.
As of September 2023, this case is in its early stages and a decision on the admissibility of the application can be expected within a year.
Case Development: European responsibility for war crimes in Yemen – Complicity of RWM Italia and Italian arms export authority?
The complaint calls for the ECtHR to ensure that European states provide access to justice for victims of war crimes committed with weapons produced in Europe. The case has been brought in...
Press Release: Italian-made bombs in deadly airstrike in Yemen
This press release covers the submission of a complaint against Italy to the European Court of Human Rights, over the use of Italian-made bombs for an airstrike on the village Deir Al-Ḩajārī,...
Unlike the other cases documented on this site that have been brought in domestic courts, the case brought before the ECtHR concerns the violation of the right to life as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) Article 2. It seeks to establish the responsibility of the Italian State for its failure to effectively investigate the criminal liability of corporate executives and senior public officials involved in arms transfers in the context of the Yemen war.
Since the 1990s, the export of military equipment – including the issuance of end-user certificates – has been increasingly regulated, due in part to the inherently dangerous nature of weapons and their impact on people’s lives and human rights. Italian arms exports are regulated by domestic Italian law (Law 185/1999), the European Common Position on arms export controls (2008), and the Arms Trade Treaty. These legal frameworks forbid arms exports to countries where there is a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or to commit serious violations of international humanitarian or international human rights law. The Arms Trade Treaty was ratified by Italy in April 2014.
This comprehensive legal framework was not in place in 1995, when the then European Commission of Human Rights, issued an inadmissibility decision in Tugar v. Italy. In that case, an Iraqi citizen was injured by the explosion of an Italian mine in Iraq. He claimed that Italy had violated his right to life (ECHR Article 2) by knowingly supplying mines to Iraq that would likely be used indiscriminately. Moreover, he argued Italy had failed to comply with its positive obligations under Article 2 to protect the right to life by effectively regulating arms transfers. The application was declared inadmissible on the grounds that the negative consequences of the absence of arms trade regulations were considered by the Commission to be “too remote” for Italy to be held liable. The fact that new regulations have been put in place implies that, in order to guarantee the right to life as enshrined in the ECHR, Italy is obliged to prevent their use in violation of fundamental rights as long as it has the concrete possibility to do so, i.e. at the stage of export authorisation and through the suspension and revocation mechanism, on the basis of the information available on the foreseeable use of the armament material by the end user.
In this context, the application offers the ECtHR the unprecedented opportunity to ensure that European states provide access to justice for victims of war crimes committed with European weapons.
How does the application to the ECtHR relate to the proceedings at the ICC?
The application to the ECtHR differs substantially from the communication submitted to the ICC, also documented on this site, with respect to the parties involved, the relevant legal provisions applicable, and the type of redress sought. While the ECtHR application concerns the responsibility of the Italian state for the violation of its duty to protect the right to life and to conduct effective investigations into its potential violation by public or private actors, the ICC communication deals with the criminal responsibility of state officials and corporate actors for their contribution to war crimes.
Proceedings at the ECtHR are governed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which protects human rights and political freedoms in Europe.
The submission has been made pursuant to ECHR Article 2, which protects “everyone’s right to life”. Individuals can bring complaints of human rights violations to the court once all possibilities of appeal have been exhausted in the member state concerned.
For a more detailed overview of procedures at the ECtHR, see here.
Relatives of victims and one survivor of the airstrike in Deir Al-Ḩajārī, Yemen on 8 October 2016 submitted the complaint. The applicants are supported by the human rights organizations Mwatana for Human Rights, Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
To get in touch with the claimants and their legal representatives, please see here.
Complaint against Italy at the European Court of Human RightsExplore case
The complaint calls for the ECtHR to ensure that European states provide access to justice for victims of war crimes committed with weapons produced in Europe. The case has been brought in response to the Italian state’s failure 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 under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
04 Jul 2023
Claimants submit application against Italy to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the Italian state violated the 'right to life' under ECHR Article 2.Read case report here
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