Italian Arms and Yemen
Armed Conflict in Yemen
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
Legal challenges in Italy against arms transfers in the context of the Yemen war have taken a somewhat different approach to other jurisdictions as the claimants have sought to hold licensing officials, as well as the corporate managers of an arms manufacturer, criminally liable for arms exports to coalition states involved in the war in Yemen.
The fact that this complaint addresses the criminal liability of public officials is quite unique and goes beyond judicial efforts that seek to establish liability for violations of the ATT or EU Common Position that have been initiated in other national jurisdictions. Specifically, the claimant NGOs have called for the criminal prosecution of individuals responsible for activity that allegedly led to the use of Italian manufactured military components in an airstrike perpetrated by Coalition members in Yemen that resulted in civilian deaths.
On 10 March 2023, the Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome dismissed the case concerning the criminal responsibility of the defendants, despite confirming that Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA) was “in violation of at least Articles 6 and 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)” by issuing export licenses to RWM Italia S.p.A. The judge did not consider the suspects prosecutable, as it could not be proven that the main intent of the directors of UAMA was to procure a pecuniary advantage to RWM Italia S.p.A.
Watch full webinar here (27 June 2023)
Event: The Arms Trade Litigation Monitor: Legal Actions Against Irresponsible Arms Trade
Francesco Vignarca discusses the criminal investigation into the liability of UAMA officials and RWM Italia S.p.A for arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
News Article: Italy fails victims of war crimes in Yemen despite proof of violation of Arms Trade Treaty
Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo published an article on the decision of the Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome concerning the criminal responsibility of Italian public officials and the CEO...
Case Development: Decision by Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome on criminal responsibility of Italian public officials and CEO of arms manufacturer
The Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome finds that Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament (UAMA) was “in violation of at least Article 6 and 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty...
Case: Criminal Complaint against the UAMA and RWM Italia S.p.A
The request was submitted jointly on behalf of Yemeni victims and three NGOs who called for an investigation into the individual criminal responsibility of the officials of the competent national...
Proceedings in Italy are complex in nature and address detailed issues of criminal law, including the criminal responsibility of corporate executives and public officials, rather than specifically addressing the administrative legality of licensing decisions under the ATT or EU Common Position, as has been the approach of other domestic litigation documented on this site. As such, investigations concentrated on the offence of the abuse of office. However, on 10 March, 2023, the Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome dismissed the case, as it could not be proven that UAMA officials had the intent to procure a pecuniary advantage to the company.
Initial investigations focused on whether the defendants had the requisite
To find someone criminally liable, in addition to the commission of a criminal act, the person who committed it must have had a certain state of mind when carrying out the criminalised conduct. The threshold of culpability will be set by law.
The complainants had requested the prosecutor to open an investigation into the crimes of involuntary manslaughter, personal injury and abuse of power, however an investigation was only opened for the latter. The Italian prosecutor limited the scope of investigations to the offence of abuse of office. On 10 March 2023, the Judge for Preliminary Investigations in Rome dismissed the case, on the basis that it could not be proven that UAMA officials had the intent to procure a pecuniary advantage to the company. In the same decision, the court stablished that UAMA directors were “certainly aware of the possible use of the arms sold by RWM to Saudi Arabia in the conflict in Yemen to the detriment of civilians.” Nevertheless “they continued to issue arms export licences to the company RWM even in the following years, in violation of at least Articles 6 and 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)”.
Since the charges against the officials of UAMA were considered ill-founded, the judge ordered, without further argumentation, the dismissal of the investigation also in relation to the manager of RWM Italia S.p.A.
National legislation regulating the export of arms and other military equipment in Italy fully implements EU Directive 2009/43/EC and ‘takes into account’ the EU Common Position. Law N.185/1990 (in particular Articles 1.5 and 1.6) proscribes the export of arms in specified circumstances. The ATT is also applicable.
The competence to issue licences is vested in a dedicated Unit for the Authorisation of Armament Materials (UAMA) which forms part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and acts on the basis of opinions issued by an Inter-Ministerial Advisory Committee.
Litigation in Italy has sought to challenge arms exports through criminal proceedings pursuant to the Italian Criminal Code.
The criminal complaint was jointly filed by three NGOs – Mwatana for Human Rights, Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The claimants were represented by Francesca Cancellaro.
To get in touch with the claimants and their legal representatives, please see here.
The Claimants have been able to obtain access to previously unknown information about government decision-making and risk assessments through taking the route of criminal proceedings. This information could form the evidential basis of future administrative and criminal challenges against licencing decisions.Read more about the issue of transparency in other jurisdictions
The Judge for Preliminary investigations in Rome found the issuing of the export licences by UAMA “in violation of at least Articles 6 and 7 of the ATT”. However, as they were released in conformity with the procedure required by Italian law, the Judge dismissed the case, deeming that the suspects were not prosecutable as it could not be proven that UAMA officials had the intent to procure a pecuniary advantage to the company.Read more about the issue of justiciability in other jurisdictions
Contrary to the government’s argument, the ATT and EU Common Position have been considered as directly applicable to national licensing decisions.Read more about the applicability of the ATT and the EU Common Position across the challenges
This issue has not arisen in proceedings.Read more about standing across all cases
This issue has not arisen in proceedings.Read more about whether claimants have been granted remedy in other jurisdictions
Criminal Complaint against the UAMA and RWM Italia S.p.AExplore case
This request called for an criminal investigation into government officials who had granted licences for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and corporate executives of an arms manufacturer for physical damage and civilian deaths caused by the use of their products in Yemen. On 10 March 2023, the prosecutor ordered the proceedings to be definitively closed.
10 Mar 2023
Judge for Preliminary Investigations rules that that it could not be proven that the main intent of the directors of UAMA was to cause unfair damage to the victims or to procure a pecuniary advantage for RWM Italia S.p.A.Read preliminary analysis of judgement here
15 Mar 2022
The NGO complainants appeal the decision of the Prosecutor to the GIP. The appeal argues that there is sufficient evidence in the case to move directly to trial. A hearing on this second dismissal is pending.
07 Dec 2021
The prosecutor requests the dismissal of the case again, on the same legal grounds that led him to the dismissal in September 2018, and which had already been overruled by the GIP.
22 Feb 2021
GIP orders for the investigation to be continued and orders the Prosecutor to request additional information from the Italian authorities and the RWM Italia.
22 Oct 2018
Dismissal appealed to the Judge of Preliminary Investigations. The claimants argue that the Prosecutor has failed to consider murder and personal injury charges as well as the criminal liability of the corporate executives, and failed to properly review the lawfulness of the licensing procedure.
18 Sep 2018
Case dismissed by the Prosecutor. Prosecutor concludes that no characterisation of mens rea is required for the abuse of power of UAMA, and there are no serious factual and legal grounds for proceedings.
17 Apr 2018
Case enters the courts. Complaint filed to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, requesting the investigation of corporate executives of RWM Italia and senior officials from UAMA regarding their alleged individual criminal liability for the role their exports allegedly played in the airstrike and subsequent civilian harm.
09 Oct 2016
Yemeni NGO Mwatana for Human Rights explore the remnants of the bomb used in the airstrike and find a suspension lug (a device used to attach the bomb to its aircraft) that had been produced by RWM Italia.
08 Oct 2016
An airstrike in Deir Al-Hajari, Yemen results in the death of six civilians including four children and a pregnant women.
There has been a recent improvement in this thematic area
There has been a recent worsening of this thematic area