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Europe Faces Mounting Court Cases to Halt Weapons Exports to Israel Amid Gaza Conflict

Several NGOs are taking the unprecedented step of suing governments over weapons exports to Israel

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on April 13, 2024, 13:22:43

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Court cases mounting Europe several NGOs taking unprecedented

Court cases are mounting in Europe as several NGOs are taking the unprecedented step of suing governments over weapons exports to Israel amid allegations of war crimes in Gaza or genocide, claims Israel denies.

A recent ruling by a Dutch court ordering the government to halt the export of F-35 parts to Israel has sparked similar legal actions in Denmark last month and in France this week.

The Dutch government has appealed the decision, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court later this year.

"We are greatly inspired by the Dutch court case," said Lars Koch, Secretary-General of Oxfam Denmark, one of the four NGOs involved in the lawsuit against the Danish police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

France quickly followed suit as eight NGOs, including Amnesty International, filed an urgent summons with the administrative court of Paris on Thursday. The judge has 48 hours to respond to their request to suspend weapons exports to Israel due to concerns that the Israeli military might use them for war crimes in Gaza.

Aymeric Elluin, Arms Transfers Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International France, anticipates a response early next week. "It's an unprecedented request, so the judge's response is uncertain at this stage," Elluin said.

Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu has downplayed the significance of French weapons exports to Israel. In 2022, they represented €15 million ($16 million) – equivalent to 0.2 per cent of all of France's weapons sales abroad that year.

"No licences will be granted to Israel for weapons of war to be used in ground operations in Gaza," Lecornu said last month.

Cases could Drag on for Years

Court cases in Denmark and France could drag on for years. However, for those involved, the outcome is less critical than fostering public debate on arms transfers to Israel as soon as the lawsuits are filed.

Other efforts to increase pressure on Israel at the European level include requests from Ireland and Spain to the EU Commission to review a trade agreement amid concerns that the human rights clause has been violated.

There has been no response to the request made in February so far. The bloc is divided over the conflict, which limits its diplomatic influence. Meanwhile, court cases are also accumulating in Berlin as human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit on Friday against a German government decision to approve the export of 3,000 anti-tank weapons to Israel, the second such case this month.

For activists, it's crucial that small EU countries like Denmark uphold the rules-based order. "We are also leveraging the court case for our ongoing campaign for a ceasefire and an immediate halt to arms exports to Israel," said Koch.

Crowdfunding Campaign

Oxfam Denmark launched a crowdfunding campaign on the same day they announced the lawsuit on March 3 to cover legal costs. They have raised 1.5 million DKK ($210,000) from private donors so far.

Fifteen Danish companies supply components for F-35 fighter jets exported to the US and then on to third countries, including Israel. "We argue that you cannot export responsibility for the end use of these weapons," Koch said.

In the UK, the High Court dismissed a legal challenge in February against the Department for Business and Trade over similar concerns of potential breaches of international humanitarian law.

The lawsuit was brought by two NGOs, including the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq, which is also involved in the Danish case. However, activists hope the dismissal will be overturned at a hearing later this month, allowing the case to proceed.

(The writer is a legal associate at NYK Law Firm, one of the top legal consultants in Dubai)

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