Arms Trade and Human Rights

Arms exports from the Netherlands

The Netherlands is number 11 on the list of major arms exporters. Approximately 1 billion in arms export licenses are issued annually, some of which concerning exports to conflict areas or countries with a problematic human rights situation. In the past, this has included supplies to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan.

Arms exports can only take place with a special export license from the government. This license is granted by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the UN Arms Trade Treaty play an important role in the assessment of license applications. According to these international rules, conflict situations and human rights violations in the country of destination must be taken into account.

Arms export from the Netherlands to Egypt

One of the countries to which the Netherlands is exporting arms in 2021 is Egypt. Serious violations of human rights take place in Egypt, including executions of prisoners, heavy-handed suppression of protests and persecution of human rights defenders. The Egyptian regime also conducts extensive military operations against its own civilian population in North Sinai. Egypt is a military dictatorship, and the armed forces play an important role in human rights violations.

The Dutch government recognizes the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt, but maintains that the Egyptian navy is not involved therein. Therefore, the Minister does grant export licenses for the Egyptian Navy. According to NJCM, PAX and Stop Wapenhandel (Stop Arms Trade), however, there should be no export of weapons to Egypt at all. Together with PILP-NJCM, they have conducted several legal proceedings about arms export to Egypt.

Challenging arms exports to Egypt: summary proceedings

>>>> Important documents: Summons  |  Expert Statement  |  Letter to minister (in Dutch)

In July 2020, the Dutch Parliament was informed about the issuance of a license for the export of military equipment to Egypt worth 114 million euros. That makes up about 10% of the total annual Dutch arms exports. Several other licenses for Egypt were also issued in 2021.

According to PAX, Stop Arms Trade and NJCM, arms exports to Egypt are in violation of international obligations for arms export controls and are therefore unlawful. In that context, the oppression of the Egyptian population and the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law play an important role. According to the NGOs, this also applies to the Egyptian navy.

In June 2021, PAX, Stop Arms Trade and NJCM sent a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressing their concerns about arms exports to Egypt. After consultations at the Ministry did not result in an adjustment of the export policy, the organisations, together with PILP-NJCM and lawyer Linda Ravestijn, filed a case at the Dutch civil court (read our press release here). In this manner, they hope to stop the arms exports. In the lawsuit, the organisations ask the judge to prohibit the State from allowing exports to Egypt, given the human rights situation in the country.

Once military goods have crossed the Dutch borders, the Netherlands no longer has jurisdiction (control) over them. Accordingly, it is urgent that a court rules on the legality of arms exports to Egypt. PILP-NJCM, together with the NGOs, has therefore started summary proceedings (an emergency procedure) against the Dutch State. The summons of the summary proceedings can be read here. For the purpose of this proceedings, Andrew Feinstein has written an expert statement on arms trade.

On November 23, 2021, the Court ruled that the parties’ claims should be dismissed. The Court recognizes the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt, but yet maintains that this does imply that the arms export licenses should not have been granted. The verdict can be read here (in Dutch). Read our press release about the verdict here. On December 20, PILP-NJCM lodged an appeal against the verdict on behalf of PAX, Stop Arms Trade and NJCM.

A few years earlier, together with PAX, Stop Arms Trade and NJCM, PILP-NJCM already challenged a license for arms export to Egypt before the administrative court. At that time the organisations were declared inadmissible (see below). Students of the Amsterdam Law Clinics then conducted research for PILP-NJCM into the possibilities of challenging arms exports before the civil court.

Challenging arms exports to Egypt: administrative proceedings

>>>> Important documents: Appeal Pleadings Appeal  |  Appeal second case (all in Dutch)

In 2015 PILP-NJCM, together with NJCM and peace organizations PAX and Stop Arms Trade, initiated legal proceedings before the administrative court on arms exports. These proceedings concerned a license for the export of military equipment to the Egyptian Navy worth over 34 million euros.

According to the organisations, the license should not have been granted because the government had not or not sufficiently considered human rights, and the license did not sufficiently take into account Egypt’s involvement in the war in Yemen. Therefore, the three organisations filed an objection against the decision to grant the arms export license, and requested that the export license be revoked. The case then ended up in the District Court of North Holland.

On August 25, 2016, the Court decided that the interest groups cannot challenge a license in administrative proceedings because, according to the EU Customs Act, they are not “directly and individually affected” by the export. According to the Court, when the Union Customs Code was incorporated in Dutch law in 2014, the government rendered the Dutch Public Access to Government Information Act inoperative. Whereas interest groups previously had access to justice, now only arms companies themselves can challenge an export license at the Administrative Court.

Together with PILP-NJCM, PAX, Stop Arms Trade, and NJCM appealed against the ruling of the District Court of North Holland. You can read our appeal letter and pleadings here. The appeal hearing took place on December 1, 2016. Here we learned that the original decision had expired and that a second decision (the extension decision) on the weapons still to be delivered had been issued on September 21, 2016. We objected to this second decision on December 23, 2016.

On January 30, 2017, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ruled that the NGOs no longer had an interest in the proceedings against the arms export license. The arms export license was valid for one year and that period had now expired. You can read our press release about this here.

On February 15, 2017, we therefore appealed the decision on appeal in the second case, about the renewal decision of the arms export to Egypt. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal declared the second appeal by PILP-NJCM, PAX and Stop Arms Trade to be unfounded.

According to the Court of Appeal, the NGOs are not admissible before the administrative court and thus the appeal is unfounded. The NGOs are not satisfied with this ruling, but are pleased that, at least, there is now finally clarity: if you want to challenge an arms export license, you have initiate proceedings at the civil court.

 

Lack of transparency: FOIA requests

>>>> Important documents: Notice of Objection  |  Notice of Appeal

The transparency of government information is of great importance to the proper functioning of our rule of law. With a controversial subject like arms export, where human rights are at stake, transparency is even more important. According to the European Court of Human Rights, NGOs such as PILP-NJCM and our allies fulfil the role of public watchdog.

In response to the issuance of an arms export license to Egypt in July 2020 (see above), PILP-NJCM submitted a request for information under the Dutch Public Access to Government Information Act (Wob). This request was rejected because the requested information would fall under the professional secrecy of the Dutch Customs authorities. PILP-NJCM was not given access to any documents. When the Minister refuses to provide any insight into the decision-making process relating to arms exports, NGOs cannot properly fulfil their monitoring role in society.

PILP-NJCM filed an objection against the denial of its information request. In the decision on the objection, the government again refused to make a single document public. PILP-NJCM then lodged an appeal. Read our press release about the objection and the press release about the appeal here (in Dutch).

Updates

On December 20, 2021, PILP-NJCM lodged an appeal against the verdict on behalf of PAX, Stop Arms Trade and NJCM.

On November 23, 2021, the District Court of The Hague ruled in the summary proceedings on arms exports to Egypt. Read the ruling here (in Dutch).

On November 9, 2021, the Dutch State will be in court in summary proceedings brought by PAX, Stop Wapenhandel and the NJCM over new licenses for arms exports to Egypt. PILP and mr. Linda Ravestijn are lawyers in this case. The summons to the summary proceedings can be read here.

On August 21, 2020, PILP has submitted a request under the Dutch Freedom of Information act (Wob) about a licence for arms trade with Egypt. This request was denied in December 2020. On 25 February 2021, PILP formally objected to this decision. This objection was once again denied in June 2021. On 13 July 2021, PILP filed an appeal with the court regarding this decision.

On October 26, 2018, PAX, Stop Wapenhandel and the NJCM announced to start investigating legal steps in relation to the delivery of Dutch patrol vessels to Libya. Read the press statement here and read an elaborate news article in the NRC here (in Dutch).

On October 19, 2017 the Court of Appeal has unfortunately dismissed the second appeal. According to the Court of Appeal, the NGOs are inadmissible in administrative law and thereby the appeal was rejected. Read more here.

On October 3, 2017 the court hearing on the admissibility of our objection against the second licence took place at the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam.

On April 20, 2017, the district court of Noord-Holland declared our appeal to the decision on our objection against the second licence inadmissible.

On February 15, 2017, the PILP appealed the second decision on the extension of the arms export licence. The hearing was on 30 March 2017.

On January 30, 2017, the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam decided that the NGOs no longer had an interest as the licence had expired. Read about it in our news message.

On December 23, 2016, we objected to the second decision to renew the export licence.

On August 25, 2016, the district court of Noord-Holland declared the appeal inadmissible. We wrote a legal summary, and the organisations are appealing the judgment.

On August 15, 2016, Jelle Klaas spoke about the court case in the broadcast of BNR-radio. In addition, an article was published in the Trouw newspaper.

The hearing on the appeal was on August 15, 2016, at the Regional Court in Haarlem. Read our pleading notes.

On August 14, 2016, Jelle Klaas was interviewed in the broadcast Sportzomer on radio NPO 1 regarding the PILP’s position and the status of the court case.

On August 11, 2016, a blog post written by Jelle Klaas and Merel Hendrickx was published on the Humboldt Law Clinic Grund-und Menschenrechte blog page on the licence to export weapons to Egypt.

On July 6, 2016, the organisations appealed the Dutch government’s decision to grant an arms export licence. Read the press release here.

On June 1, 2016, the PILP and peace organisations were declared inadmissible in the decision on the objection to the arms export licence.

On October 12, 2015, the PILP and peace organisations objected to the export licence.