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Home Posts tagged "arms exports"

Complicity in war crimes through (legal) arms supplies?

Published on January 20, 2020        Author: 

 

German and other corporations whose arms were used in the war in Yemen have been accused of criminally assisting war crimes. The Berlin-based NGO European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a complaint (a “communication”) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) making this claim with regard to a series of multinational arms companies. But is a criminal complicity possible if exports are licensed by the competent national authorities as is at least the case in Germany?

In modern, capitalist industrial societies, businesses create risks on a daily basis – just think of car production and the (fatal) accidents associated with it. However, these risks are regarded as legally permissible as long as certain due diligence standards are upheld. In the case of products that are dangerous per se, stricter standards need to apply. Take for example the case of war weapons where, according to Germany’s Military Weapons Control Act (Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz, KWKG), the (national) production of these weapons needs to be authorised, and exporting such weapons is subject to further licensing requirements under foreign trade legislation. Whether or not the export is criminal depends upon whether it has been authorised by the responsible state administration, in the same way that operating a dangerous plant may be criminal or not under environmental law depending upon such an authorisation. The criminality of the export thus is accessory to administrative law.

As a further consequence, if a weapons corporation meets all licensing requirements, that is, its national production is legal and its exports are permitted (authorised) and thus lawful, the conduct that is dangerous per se – putting weapons of war into circulation – is to be considered as a permissible risk in line with the well-established doctrine of objective (fair) attribution or imputation (Theorie objektiver Zurechnung, for a good explanation in English see Andrew von Hirsch’s paper on ‘Remote Harms and Fair Imputation’). This doctrine limits, using normative criteria, accomplice liability to those acts of assistance/contributions which either create a risk/harm, or increase an existing risk/harm and this risk/harm is disapproved of by the legal order (prohibited – as opposed to permissible – risk/harm) (cf. Ambos, Treatise on International Criminal Law, Vol. I, OUP 2013, p. 165). As a consequence, the attributory nexus (with regard to possible international crimes committed using these weapons) is interrupted. This also concerns possible acts of assistance, for example selling military weapons, since these must be regarded as permissible likewise (albeit not as “neutral” given that the concept of “neutrality”, as explained here, does not fit well with business transactions with regard to situations of armed conflict or weak governance zones). Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Legality of the UK / Saudi Arabia Arms Trade: A Case Study

Published on July 20, 2017        Author:  and

On 10 July 2017 the UK High Court delivered its open judgment in a high-profile challenge to the UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. A separate closed judgment was delivered based on the confidential evidence. As readers will be aware, the case involves various domestic and international law considerations.

The primary question was whether the Secretary of State for International Trade (the Government) was legally obliged to suspend extant and cease granting new export licences to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such an obligation would stem from the requirement to deny such licences where there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”.

This condition is contained in Criterion 2 of the Common Rules Governing the Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment (European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, December 2008). The Government adopted much of the Common Position as Guidance under s.9 of the Export Control Act 2002 and it accordingly represents the policy that will be applied when considering the grant of export licences. The Consolidated Criteria are thus intended to ensure the UK’s compliance with the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and the text of Criterion 2 links to its Article 7.

This blog post sets out initial thoughts on the open judgment, specifically focusing on its approach to ‘serious violation’ and ‘clear risk’, before examining the deference granted to the executive and its implications for the fulfilment of the ATT’s overarching purpose. Ultimately unsuccessful, the claim underscores the narrow ambit of judicial review and the unwillingness of UK courts to become embroiled in the merits of certain government action. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 

As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…