Court orders disclosure of SA arms dealers allegedly linked to weapons used in Yemen conflict

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Houthi followers hold their guns during a tribal gathering against the continued war and blockade in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2019.
Houthi followers hold their guns during a tribal gathering against the continued war and blockade in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2019.
Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
  • The high court granted an urgent order forcing the National Conventional Arms Control Committee to disclose the names of all permit holders in South Africa that are authorised to export arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
  • These weapons from SA are allegedly used against civilians in war-torn Yemen.
  • Open Secrets director Hennie van Vuuren said the ruling was the first part of lengthy legal process "involving powerful state institutions and large arms companies". 


Open Secrets and the Southern African Litigation Centre have won a significant first victory in their legal campaign to block arms dealers in South Africa from selling weapons allegedly used against civilians in war-torn Yemen.

The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday afternoon granted an urgent order forcing the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) to disclose the names of all permit holders in South Africa that are authorised to export arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This information is not publicly available and Open Secrets and the Southern African Litigation Centre contend that they need it so that they can challenge the continued sale of these weapons, which they argue have been used against civilians in Yemen.

Both organisations intend to seek a judicial review of the NCACC’s decisions "to authorise arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite their active role in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and allegations of committing war crimes".

Open Secrets director Hennie van Vuuren said the court’s ruling - which was not opposed by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula or the NCACC - was a significant first step in that litigation strategy.

First major hurdle cleared

"We have cleared the first major legal hurdle and 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," he told Fin24.

"This is likely to be a lengthy legal process, involving powerful state institutions and large arms companies - but it is vital that we challenge a practice which has seen profit being made from human rights abuse in countries like Yemen."

The ruling, which was granted by Judge Norman Davis, will effectively lift the lid on which arms dealers in South Africa have been supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE – which have both been accused by the United Nations expert group on Yemen of violating international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

This has not, however, stopped South Africa from exporting arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE since the outbreak of the conflict in Yemen and the country’s resultant humanitarian crisis. The litigation being bought by Open Secrets and the Southern African Litigation Centre will now force the South African government to explain why it has chosen to do so – in the face of multiple other states suspending arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The NCACC will also need to explain why it has granted South African companies permits to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, given that the NCAC Act demands that it avoid transfers of arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms; and transfers of arms that are likely to contribute to the escalation of regional military conflicts.

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