BAE Systems has been accused of having contributed to alleged war crimes in the conflict in Yemen by a group of human rights organisations, in a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has submitted a 300-page document accusing European arms executives at firms such as BAE, Airbus and Raytheon of “aiding and abetting” the alleged crimes.
The war in Yemen has been raging since 2015, and more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels, who support Iran, has repeatedly carried out airstrikes that human rights groups have criticised.
The document cites 26 strikes which killed 135 people. It describes some of as them attacks on hospitals and schools by Saudi bombers or those from its coalition ally the United Arab Emirates.
Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Yemeni organization Mwatana for Human Rights, said: “Saudi/UAE-led coalition airstrikes have caused terrible destruction in Yemen. Weapons produced and exported by the US and Europe have enabled this destruction.
“Five years into this war, the countless Yemeni victims deserve credible investigations into all perpetrators of crimes against them, including those potentially complicit.”
Human rights campaigners from Amnesty International and Campaign Against the Arms Trade handed over the file in The Hague, where the ICC is based.
Linde Bryk, Legal Advisor at ECCHR, added: “European companies – and indirectly European states – have profited from arms exports to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition. At the same time these arms are used in Yemen in international humanitarian law violations that may amount to war crimes.”
UK ministers promised in June to stop green-lighting export licences to Saudi Arabia and its military coalition allies for use in Yemen, after a challenge by campaigners at the Court of Appeal.
But trade secretary Liz Truss faced calls to resign in October after admitting to several “inadvertent” breaches of that promise.
Judges hearing the case earlier this year said existing licences should be reviewed, but that they would not be suspended straight away. However, Truss predecessor Liam Fox had assured them the government would not grant further export licences while it considered the ruling.
BAE Systems is contracted to the UK government, not to Saudi entities in the selling of arms to the kingdom.
Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s arms control researcher, said: “An ICC investigation would be a historic step towards holding arms company executives accountable for their business decisions.
“Company executives have had ample time and access to plenty of reliable information to reassess their decisions to supply the coalition in the light of the horrific events in Yemen.”
A spokesperson for BAE Systems said: “We provide defence equipment, training and support under government to government agreements between the UK and KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].
“We comply with all relevant export control laws and regulations in the countries in which we operate. Our activities are subject to UK government approval and oversight.”