Dear Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan QC,
On 11th December 2019 a coalition of European and Yemeni groups led by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, and including Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court calling on the Court to investigate European governments and arms company officials for potentially aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.
The Communication calls on the ICC to investigate whether arms companies executives, including those of BAE Systems and Raytheon UK, as well as government ministers and officials, by authorising and exporting arms to members of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, have been contributing to serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen that may amount to war crimes. The Communication argues that the economic and political actors of the EU and UK involved in supplying these arms potentially bear criminal responsibility.
Since the bombardment of Yemen began nearly seven years ago, the UK has sold over £20 billion worth of arms and services to the Coalition. Coalition attacks have killed 8,796 civilians since the start of the conflict, according to the Yemen Data Project. Yemen has remained the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with unprecedented levels of hunger. 16.2 million Yemenis are food insecure, 5 million people in Yemen are on the brink of famine, and nearly 50,000 people are living in ‘famine-like’ conditions.
Two years since the Communication was submitted the accountability gap in Yemen has never been greater. In October the UN Human Rights Council failed to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE), which for more than four years had investigated and reported on human rights abuses and other violations of international law by all parties to the Yemen conflict. The Human Rights Council vote was the result of an aggressive lobbying campaign against the experts’ reporting by Saudi Arabia, backed by the United Arab Emirates, leaders of the military coalition in the Yemen conflict, and other allies.
Despite warnings from the very start of the bombing, almost 7 years ago, that war crimes were being committed, UK and EU arms exports to Saudi continued unabated. In particular, the UK government has shown unrivalled tenacity in maintaining arms supplies of all types in the face of strong political and legal challenges.
In June 2019, following a successful legal challenge brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), the UK Court of Appeal ordered the UK government to stop issuing new arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, and retake all licensing decisions. The Court found that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen without making any assessment as to whether violations of International Humanitarian Law had taken place.
However, in July 2020, the government announced they had decided to resume issuing licenses, because their assessment had determined that any violations of international law in Yemen were simply “isolated incidents”, in the face of a weight of evidence to the contrary. The total lack of accountability for these crimes, as facilitated by the UK government, has contributed to a climate of impunity, weakened the rule of law and undermined the spirit of multilateralism globally.
In the absence of an international investigative mechanism for the crimes that have been committed in Yemen, in the absence of any responsibility taken by European governments and powerful economic actors, the mandate of the ICC - as an international court that can deliver justice, peace and accountability where impunity prevails - is essential.
I await your decision on the Communication with interest and urge you to do everything in your power to secure accountability for the people of Yemen.