Arms firms executives could face investigation for complicity in war crimes

Executives of a US arms firm which makes smart bombs in Fife could face investigation for potentially aiding and abetting alleged war crimes in Yemen by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

A coalition of groups – including Amnesty International and Campaign Against Arms Trade – has written to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague urging it to investigate the legal responsibility of corporate and political actors backing a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Despite dozens of attacks on civilian homes, markets, hospitals and schools by the Saudis in Yemen, arms companies have continued to supply the military coalition with weapons, ammunition and logistical support.

Critics say there has been a litany of atrocities committed by the Saudi-led coalition. But European governments including the UK have authorised arms sales to the Saudis by granting export licenses.

Scottish Government hands £3m to arms firms profiting from Yemen war

Now the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has made an official request asking the ICC to investigate the role of executives of arms companies and licensing officials in European states, including the UK.

The ECCHR – backed by the independent Yemeni group, Mwatana for Human Rights, as well as Amnesty International, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Centre Delàs and Rete Disarmo – has submitted a 300-page report to the ICC’s office of the prosecutor .

The report calls on the ICC to investigate whether high-ranking officials, from both European companies and governments, could bear criminal responsibility for supplying arms used by members of the Saudi Arabia/UAE-led coalition in potential war crimes in Yemen.

It requests an investigation into their potential complicity in 26 specific airstrikes which unlawfully killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools, hospitals and other protected objects.

Arms companies named in the report with factories in Scotland include Raytheon, Leonardo, BAE Systems and Thales. They have collectively received grants from the government’s Scottish Enterprise worth millions of pounds over the past decade, as reported by The Ferret.

Raytheon makes laser guided systems for Paveway IV bombs at its factory in Glenrothes, Fife, while BAE operates on the ground in Saudi Arabia to support the coalition.

According to the ECCHR’s report, the Saudi-led coalition relies on military products manufactured by European companies. “Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, indispensable for the air warfare, are the result of joint production schemes including several European companies, namely BAE, Airbus Defence and Space GmbH (Germany), Airbus Defence and Space S.A. (Spain) and Leonardo for the Typhoon as well as Leonardo, BAE, Airbus, and Panavia Gmbh (Germany) for the Tornado,” it says.

“These planes are further equipped with bombs and missiles equally of European origin, comprising in particular MBDA (UK and France) manufactured Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles, as well as Raytheon UK produced Paveway IV bombs and RWM Italia manufactured bombs of the MK 80 series. Targeting devices that allow for the actual deployment of those bombs are provided by the French company Thales among others.”

The ECCHR’s report adds that bomb remnants found on sites of airstrikes in Yemen include “the guidance kits for bombs: Paveway IV munition produced by Raytheon in the United Kingdom”.

Court rules UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful

Sam Perlo-Freeman of Campaign Against Arms Trade said that arms companies “can’t abdicate themselves of responsibility for the way that their weapons are used”.

He added: “These companies have played a central and complicit role in creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen. We are proud to support this case. It is long past time that the arms industry was held to account for its role in fuelling war, conflict and repression.”

Patrick Wilcken, Arms Control Researcher at Amnesty International, said that an ICC investigation would be “an historic step towards holding arms company executives accountable for their business decisions”.

“The reality is that everybody involved in selling weapons to the Saudi Arabia/UAE-led coalition bears some responsibility for how those weapons are used. This includes company executives as well as government officials,” he added.

“The ICC prosecutor can send a clear message that it will hold corporate actors to account if they are involved in the most serious crimes.”

Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, said that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes had caused terrible destruction in Yemen. “Weapons produced and exported by the US and Europe have enabled this destruction,” he stated.

“Five years into this war the countless Yemeni victims deserve credible investigations into all perpetrators of crimes against them, including those potentially complicit. We’re hoping that the ICC can play a role in starting to fill the current, cavernous accountability gap in Yemen.”

Linde Bryk, legal advisor at ECCHR, said: “European companies – and indirectly European states – have profited from arms exports to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition. At the same time these arms are used in Yemen in international humanitarian law violations that may amount to war crimes.

“By seeking an investigation into corporate executives and government officials the Communication (the report) seeks to hold to hold to account powerful actors involved in the arms trade and to close the corporate impunity gap.”

BAE Systems has received £616,748 in business grants from Scottish Enterprise since 2007. Leonardo has received £13.8 million in grants over the same period, while Thales – which employs more than 700 people at two sites in Glasgow – has received £204,992 since 2007.

New UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been on hold since June after the court of appeal said that ministers had not properly assessed whether they would be used in breach of international humanitarian law.

BAE Systems UK said: “We provide defence equipment, training and support under government to government agreements between the UK and KSA.‎ We comply with all relevant export control laws and regulations in the countries in which we operate. Our activities are subject to UK Government approval and oversight.”

All the arms firms mentioned above were asked to provide comments.

This article was updated at 08.17 on 13th December 2019 to add a comment from BAE Systems.

Photo thanks to iStock/Belal Al-shaqaqi

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