Johannesburg (Dispatches) – A South African court has ordered the country’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) to provide a list of companies that have permits to export weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, following a court battle over their role in the devastating conflict in Yemen.
Earlier this month, the Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre (SALC) and Open Secrets, a non-profit organization investigating economic crime, submitted an application in a high court in Pretoria calling for both the names of companies that can deliver arms to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, as well as a judicial review of the NCACC’s authorizations of arms exports to the two countries.
South Africa exported between 22 percent and 31 percent of controlled data-x-items valued between 4bn and 4.6bn South African Rand (between $287m and $330m) in 2019 and last year, respectively, to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
An investigation by Open Secrets titled Profiting from Misery - South Africa’s war crimes in Yemen revealed that weapons produced in South Africa are awash in Yemen and being used by numerous parties in that war.
The hearing was over in less than half an hour, with Pretoria high court judge Norman Davis granting the order, while the NCACC refused to file court papers and turn up in court for answers.
Open Secrets’ Hennie Van Vuuren said the order meant that they had “cleared the first major legal hurdle.”
“Now we get to the urgent business of stopping the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have targeted civilians in Yemen and are accused of violating international law,” the South African online newspaper TimesLive quoted him as saying.
He said this was likely to be a lengthy process involving powerful institutions and large arms companies.
“But it is vital that we challenge a practice which has seen a profit being made from human rights abuse in countries like Yemen,” Van Vuuren added.
Meanwhile, evidence has also shown that South African weapons have been found at the scenes of attacks against civilians in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Riyadh, backed by Western powers and regional allies, launched the devastating bombing campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with an aim to reinstall the pro-Riyadh government of ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had resigned months earlier and fled to Riyadh amid the conflict with the Houthi movement.
The war has killed hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and displaced millions of others. It has also destroyed the country’s vital infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, leading to the worst humanitarian crisis.