Press Release: Organisations dispute arms export licence for Egypt in court

The Dutch Section of the International Commission of Jurists (PILP-NJCM), and peace organisations PAX, and Stop Wapenhandel have appealed the Dutch government’s decision to grant an arms export licence. According to the organisations, the licence should not have been granted because the government has not, or has insufficiently, taken human rights and the Egyptian involvement in the Yemen war into consideration. This is the first time an organisation has disputed an arms export licence in this manner.

In September 2015, the government wrote to the House of Representatives that it had licenced an arms trade export for the Egyptian navy. The military material is worth 34 million euros. The government’s letter mentions that ‘severe human rights violations’ are taking place in Egypt, but that those violations cannot be connected to the military material being exported, as they will be delivered to the navy, not the army. It appears the government has not taken into account the Yemen naval blockade, in which the Egyptian navy is partaking, nor the media reports of the Egyptian navy opening fire on refugee boats.

The Netherlands is obliged to conduct a human rights and international law investigation when granting arms export licences. According to the PILP-NJCM, the government has not, or not properly, conducted this human rights investigation. The PILP-NJCM also believes that the government has not, or insufficiently, taken into account the facts, especially concerning the situation in Yemen.

Pax and Stop Wapenhandel state that the arms export licence is harmful to peace and the situation in the Middle East. Frank Slijper of Pax explains: ‘Egypt is providing the Saudi Arabian-led military operations in Yemen with ground troops and naval vessels. The humanitarian situation in Yemen has drastically deteriorated due to the naval blockade and it is said that war crimes have been committed.’ Wendela de Vries of Stop Wapenhandel adds: ‘When licensing arms exports, the government should take into account the recipient country’s relative levels of military and social expenditure. It appears that in this case the government has not done so.’

The organisations were declared inadmissible in their objection of the arms export licence. According to the government, they are not a party in this administrative law procedure. Prior to this, PAX and Stop Wapenhandel were declared inadmissible in a civil procedure for the same reason. It appears the government wants to close off this route as well.

Lawyer Jelle Klaas of PILP: “If organisations such as the PILP-NJCM, PAX, and Stop Wapenhandel cannot object to an arms export licence, nobody can.” The organisations think it should be possible to be included in the legal discussion when the government is licensing arms exports and human rights are at stake.

For this reason the organisations are appealing today, asking the court for a provisional remedy to suspend the licence and freeze the delivery of the military material until a final decision has been made on their admissibility.

For more information on this topic, read the Letter to Parliament, in Dutch, and the PILP file on Arms Trade and Human Rights.