The Italian government revokes bomb export licenses to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: civil society organizations welcome the decision
The export of Italian weapons used in the horrific conflict in Yemen has been permanently stopped. These exports were authorized by licenses issued by the Italian export authority UAMA after the conflict in Yemen began. In a historic decision, and following continued civil society demands, the Italian government has cancelled the shipment of more than 12,700 bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
For the first time in the 30 years since the Italian Law 185 on arms exports came into force in 1990, the Italian government has taken the historic decision of permanently revoking the existing licenses to export missiles and aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The suspension of granting new licenses for the same materials to these countries remains in force.
According to information obtained by the Italian organization Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, this revocation applies to at least six different licenses that were suspended following a July 2019 decision. This includes a license granted to Saudi Arabia in 2016 covering almost 20,000 MK series aerial bombs worth over 411 million euros. According to calculations by Rete Pace Disarmo and Opal, revoking this license alone will cancel the supply of over 12,700 bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The Italian organizations Amnesty International Italia, RWM Reconversion Committee for Peace and Sustainable Work, Fondazione Finanza Etica, Oxfam Italy, Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, Save the Children Italia, and their international partners the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Yemeni organization Mwatana for Human Rights welcome this decision, which they have strongly advocated for for years.
This decision ends the provision of these Italian-made bombs and missiles to countries conducting indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that kill, wound and grievously harm civilians, and exacerbate an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis. Above all, it places Italy in a strong position in diplomatic discussions about a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. Italy should call for credible accountability and reparations for Yemen. This should include investigating Italian weapons’ role in the conflict, providing reparations where unlawful assistance occurred, and pursuing appropriate prosecutions against those found to be credibly implicated in international crimes, including aiding and abetting war crimes.
Our organizations welcome the engagement of members of the Italian Parliament, in particular members of the Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs Committee, who have raised attention about this issue by elaborating and approving a crucial resolution in December 2020 that required the Italian government to extend the suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The organizations also welcome the Italian government’s promptness with this resolution, which not only extends the suspension, but also revokes previous licenses, as proposed by parliament.
We are grateful to the many supporters who have joined and supported our various awareness-raising campaigns and activities on arms exports. The warring parties of the horrific conflict in Yemen, including the Saudi and UAE-led coalition and Ansar Allah (also known as the Houthis), have committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. With this unprecedented momentum, it is essential to unite efforts to suspend all categories of weapons to all members of the Saudi-led coalition, as proposed in the December 2020 parliamentary resolution, ensure credible investigations are undertaken into Italian weapons’ contributions to international law violations, ensure accountability and reparations, and better inform Italian arms exports policy in the future.
In 2017, a UN Panel of Experts report presented to the Security Council found that the Saudi and UAE-led coalition’s bombings “may constitute war crimes.” MK series bombs produced by RWM Italy were among the bomb remnants UN investigators found at airstrike sites that killed civilians in Yemen. Mwatana also documented Italian bomb parts in a coalition airstrike that killed and wounded members of a Yemeni family, including children. These findings led to a criminal complaint Rete Pace e Disarmo, Mwatana and ECCHR filed with the Prosecutor’s Office in Rome against the Italian exporting authority UAMA and RWM Italia. An important decision by the Judge for Preliminary Investigations on continuing the criminal investigation in this case is awaited in the next few weeks. The Italian government’s decision to revoke these licenses therefore confirms the need to investigate the criminal responsibility of UAMA and RWM Italia in the export of MK series bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In must also be recalled that in its 2020 Report, the Eminent Group of Experts “reiterated its call for third states to stop transferring arms to parties to the conflict given the role of such transfers in perpetuating the conflict and potentially contributing to violations”.
Stopping the export of missiles and aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cannot in itself put an end to the war in Yemen and the suffering of a population already exhausted by conflict, famine and disease. But it is a necessary step towards creating the preconditions for peace. In this sense, our organizations also remind the Italian government of the need to continue supporting the humanitarian action coordinated by the United Nations, affirming and even increasing Italy’s financial contribution to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, and supporting accountability and reparations efforts in Yemen.