NGOs bring Yemen war crimes case against French arms firms

1 min 34Approximate reading time

Three non-governmental groups said Thursday they had filed a criminal complaint against French arms manufacturers Dassault, Thales and MBDA France for "complicity in war crimes" in Yemen.

The firms "export arms to the (Saudi-led) coalition while knowing it has been committing war crimes since 2015," said Cannelle Lavite of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), one of the plaintiffs.

Alongside Yemeni rights group Mwatana and France's Sherpa, the ECCHR says French-made fighter jets, missiles and guidance systems are being used in coalition airstrikes that "may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity", adding there is evidence of attacks on civilians and homes, markets, hospitals and schools.

Lavite gave the example of Dassault's sale to coalition member the UAE and continuing maintenance of 59 Mirage fighters, which the ECCHR says makes such airstrikes possible.

A further sale of 80 Rafale jets, agreed in December, could be seen as "encouragement" to violate international humanitarian law, she said.

Besides Dassault, missile maker MBDA has sold Storm Shadow and Scalp weapons to the combatants, the ECCHR says, while Thales has provided missile guidance systems known as Damocles and Thalios.

"If you provide arms to the suspected perpetrator of repeated crimes, you're enabling them to commit those crimes," Lavite said.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi did not immediately comment on the criminal complaint lodged by the NGOs, when asked by AFP.

Investigative journalism website Disclose uncovered in 2019 an intelligence memo from the previous year which confirmed French-made weapons were being used in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition supports Yemeni government forces against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in a war that began in 2015.

Seen by the UN as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, the fighting has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, leaving many on the brink of famine.

- 'Countless victims' -

"The countless Yemeni victims deserve credible investigations into all perpetrators of crimes, including those potentially complicit," said Mwatana chief Abdulrasheed al-Faqih.

"We're hoping that French courts can play a role in starting to fill the current cavernous accountability gap".

Mwatana and Sherpa estimate "at least 3,000 dead and 4,000 wounded" in around 1,000 attacks on civilians with "modern weapons".

Al-Faqih said the response to alleged war crimes in Yemen was far behind the international reaction following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, where Western nations have called for investigations into acts by Moscow's forces -- unlike in the poor Gulf nation.

Neither Dassault, Thales nor MBDA France responded immediately when contacted by AFP for comment on the criminal complaint.