Open Secrets and the Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre (SALC) have launched a court bid to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which, they argue, are potentially fuelling the vicious war in Yemen.
In March, Open Secrets released a report, Profiting from Misery – South Africa’s war crimes in Yemen, looking at how, since the start of the war which has seen both Saudi Arabia and the UAE enter the fray, South African arms companies had been cashing in on the sale of weapons to the two.
Now, the nonprofit organisation, together with the SALC, has turned to the courts to try and bring a stop to it.
Last week, the organisations launched a two-part application in the High Court in Pretoria.
In the first part, they want a list of all companies that either have or had applied for permits to export arms to the two countries.
They say their efforts to get this directly from the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) – the government body responsible for issuing the permits – have come to nought.
They need those companies’ names, for the second part, in which they want the decisions to authorise the permits set aside.
In the founding papers, Anneke Meerkotter – the executive director of the SALC – argued these decisions flew in the face of the NCACC’s obligations under both domestic and international law.
She pointed to allegations levelled by a United Nations group of experts tasked with monitoring the situation in Yemen, that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had committed war crimes, including illegal air strikes, attacks affecting hospitals, the recruitment of child soldiers, torture and sexual violence.
She highlighted that several countries had already banned weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and/or the UAE. Yet, she said, the NCACC’s annual reports to parliament showed the two states accounted for more than one third of the total value of all South Africa’s weapons exports during the period of war, with the NCACC’s annual reports putting the total number of “controlled items” exported to them between 2016 and 2020 at more than 12 million.
Meerkotter cited the National Conventional Arms Control Act and, among others, its bars on “contributing to internal repression, including the systematic violation or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
She also cited the Arms Trade Treaty, which requires member states – including South Africa – to consider whether the export of arms “would contribute to or undermine peace and security”, or if they could be used to commit or facilitate international human rights violations or certain international offences.
Chrispin Phiri, who speaks for Justice Minister and NCACC chair Ronald Lamola, on Wednesday confirmed he was aware of the application. “The NCACC will study the papers and make a determination on what appropriate action would be,” Phiri said.