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Yemenis sue top US defence contractors for 'aiding war crimes'

Lawsuit accuses Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics of aiding extrajudicial killings by supplying weapons to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
Activists take part in a rally in front of the White House to protest against the Saudi Arabia-led coalition's actions in Yemen on 13 April 2017 in Washington.
Activists take part in a rally in front of the White House to protest against the Saudi Arabia-led coalition's actions in Yemen, on 13 April 2017 in Washington (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

A group of Yemeni nationals has filed a lawsuit in the US against defence contractors Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics, accusing them of "aiding and abetting war crimes and extrajudicial killings" by supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

The lawsuit, filed in the district court of Washington DC, also names the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, respectively, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.

Middle East Eye reached out to the Pentagon, the State Department, the embassies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the three defence contractors for comment on this lawsuit.

The State Department, Pentagon, and Lockheed Martin told MEE that they do not comment on pending litigation. General Dynamics said they did not have a comment on the lawsuit.

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"Year after year, the bombs fell - on wedding tents, funeral halls, fishing boats and a school bus - killing thousands of civilians and helping turn Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis," reads the lawsuit, seen by MEE.

"Weapons supplied by US companies through sales unlawfully approved by US officials, allowed Saudi Arabia and the UAE through the named Defendant officials to pursue an indiscriminate and brutal bombing campaign."

The plaintiffs are seven Yemeni individuals who say they represent the victims of two separate bombings in the country - one for a wedding in 2015 and another for a funeral in 2016.

In October 2015, the al-Sanabani family was readying to celebrate a relative's wedding when a warplane bombed the area, killing 43 people including 13 women and 16 children, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

One year later, in October 2016, a crowded funeral was bombed and more than 100 people were killed. HRW reported that the bomb used was the US-manufactured GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb.

"I found him under a burning car, he was dead, his legs were cut off, and his right hand was cut off too, he was completely burnt," Khaled Ali Salem Chaib, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement detailing the death of his son from the wedding bombing in 2015.

"Some nights when I sleep, I feel tight in my body, and I have disturbing nightmares and I can't bear to see the scene of the crime since."

The Yemeni plaintiffs are filing the lawsuit under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), a 1991 US law that allows victims of torture to sue for compensation from their tormenters if the accused are in the US.

The lawsuit names the Saudi and Emirati crown princes under the Alien Tort Statute, a law that grants federal courts jurisdiction over violations of international law.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Terrence Collingsworth of International Rights Advocates, comes more than a month after the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in January said it would be taking legal action against the UK government over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen.

Collingsworth, a longtime human rights lawyer based in Washington, has worked on several cases against multinational corporations over human rights abuses, including Exxon Mobil and Drummond, a coal company based in Alabama with operations in South America.

Eight years of war in Yemen

March marks the eighth year of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, and rights advocates in the US have been pushing for a definitive end to American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Earlier this week, more than 70 groups came together to protest US support for the war in several states across the country.

Yemen descended into civil war in 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the country's capital and forced the internationally recognised government to flee to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia alongside a coalition of regional allies, namely the UAE, intervened in March 2015 to push the Houthis back.

The coalition launched a wide-ranging aerial bombing campaign, carrying out thousands of air strikes in an effort to roll back Houthi gains.

Coalition forces also imposed an economic blockade on Houthi-controlled areas, including a sea and air blockade, worsening economic conditions for millions of Yemenis.

A ceasefire brokered by the UN took effect in April 2022 and was extended once, but eventually collapsed in October.

Despite the absence of a truce extension, major fighting has not escalated in the months since it expired.

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