South African Arms and Yemen
Armed Conflict in Yemen
In June 2021, two NGOs jointly initiated administrative proceedings in South African courts that seek to challenge licences issued for the export of arms and military goods to countries involved in the Yemen conflict. This claim calls for the review of export licences granted to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to their poor human rights record and the strong body of evidence indicating their involvement in the commission of international humanitarian law
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the legal framework that governs activities during armed conflict.
Several rights are usually placed at risk by the use of exported arms. The most prominent are the right to life and the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This case is still pending before administrative courts.
Case Development: New Court Order
The judge has directed the NCACC to issue court documents to the entities that had been granted permits and to hand over the full record of documents relating to its decision-making.
News Article: Back to Old Habits? South African Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE
This article provides an overview of the major issues at stake in the case launched against the South African government. It briefly addresses the domestic legal framework, the administrative...
Case: Urgent Application for Judicial Review against the NCACC and Minister of Defence
The request that was jointly submitted on behalf of SALC and Open Secrets seeks to judicially review decisions by the NCACC to grant permits that authorised the export of conventional arms to...
Case Development: Notice of Motion in the Complaint against the Chairperson of the NCACC and the Minister of Defence
The claimants formally file their claim against licensing decisions for exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The first part of the claim, filed only against the Chairperson of the NCACC, sought to...
Case Development: Supporting Affidavit of Hennie Van Vuuren
This supporting affidavit submitted attests to the work of the Open Secrets who are one of the claimants in the complaint against the NCACC and Minister of Defence.
News Article: South Africa is Putting Profit Before Yemeni Lives
This article South Africa’s complicity in war crimes in Yemen as a result of illegal arms transfers to countries involved in the conflict.
Case Development: Request to NCACC for Information on Permit Holders for Exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE
The claimants formally request information on all entities that hold permits to transfer arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose identity is not publicly disclosed, so that they can be joined to...
Proceedings in South Africa have taken a broader approach and sought to challenge a series of unspecified licences granted by the competent licensing authority for arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Reporting on licences in South Africa is often severely delayed and very limited information is provided even when licences are reported on. This has restricted the ability for concerned parties to administratively challenge specific licences until long after they have been issued, and has also prevented cases being brought against specific arms manufacturers as licence recipients as their details are not provided in any public reporting.
This ongoing claim therefore provides a strong opportunity to challenge the practice of South African authorities to regularly issue licences for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, specifically as the claimants have invoked evidence pertaining to the existence of these arms in Yemen.
Arms export controls in South Africa are regulated at the national level by the National Conventional Arms Control (NCAC) Act. This vests the competence to make licencing decisions for the export of arms with the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), whose members are appointed by the President and are supported by a secretariat known as the Directorate of Conventional Arms Control (DCAC) that forms part of the Ministry of Defence.
According to domestic legislation, licensing decisions must consider whether the recipient government systematically violates or unlawfully suppresses IHRL guarantees and whether the transfer is likely to endanger peace or contribute to the escalation of conflict or regional instability. If any of these criteria are met, then the NCACC must ‘avoid’ arms exports to these destinations. The licensing authority must also take into account South Africa’s international obligations and commitments including under the ATT to which it is a State Party. NCAC Act, Section 15
Litigation in South Africa has sought to challenge the licensing decisions of the NCACC in judicial review proceedings pursuant to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, Section 6.
For a visual overview of the South African framework, see this infographic by Open Secrets.
Reporting on licences is often severely delayed and reports that are published do not provide comprehensive information on key features including the details of licence recipients. This has barred the initiation of challenges against licences until long after they are issued.Read more about the issue of transparency in other jurisdictions
The licensing authority must take into account South Africa’s international obligations and commitments including under the ATT, to which it is a State Party. This is the subject of the ongoing challenge.Read more about the applicability of the ATT and the EU Common Position across the challenges
Matter has not yet been considered in proceedings.Read more about standing across all cases
Matter has not yet been considered in proceedings.Read more about the issue of justiciability in other jurisdictions
Matter has not yet been considered in proceedings.Read more about whether claimants have been granted remedy in other jurisdictions
A case initiated in the South African courts is still pending before administrative courts. Click ‘explore case’ to find out about the case in more detail and access all case documents.
Urgent Application for Judicial Review against the NCACC and Minister of DefenceExplore case
This case sought to judicially review licensing decisions for the export of conventional arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, arguing that the NCACC has failed to seriously consider the large body of evidence indicating the commission of serious IHL and IHRL violations by their forces in Yemen. This case is still under consideration, and has recently been referred for case management in an effort to expedite the case.
Key Case DocumentsView all case documents
27 Jan 2022
Directive issued to the NCACC. The judge again calls for the NCACC to comply with the court order and hand over the full record.
03 Aug 2021
Court orders the NCACC to hand over the full record to the Registrar.
15 Jun 2021
Judgement issued on Part A. Alternative remedy accepted.
03 Jun 2021
Case enters the courts. Claim submitted to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria seeking disclosure of entities granted the contested export licences (Part A), and the judicial review of licensing decisions (Part B).Read the claimant's submission here
Contact & More Information
If you would like to know more about this case, please get in touch with our primary contacts Michael Marchant (Open Secrets) by email here and Dr. Atilla Kisla (Southern Africa Litigation Centre) by email here.
Find out more about the work of the claimants at their website:
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