New report finds major gaps in accountability for European arms exports

Published 28 July 2023

@Istock - Victims of gun violence perpetrated with European weapons face significant challenges in accessing justice in European courts.

The Hague - 28 July 2023 - Victims of gun violence perpetrated with European weapons face significant challenges in accessing justice in European courts, finds a new report. The report, drafted by students from the international law clinic 'Access to Justice for Gun Violence' (University of Amsterdam) also concludes that the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, which requires human rights risk assessments, has a decision-making system that is undermined by a lack of transparency.

The report, titled “Access to Justice for Gun Violence: Seeking Accountability for European Arms Exports” assesses the mechanisms in place in eleven European countries to challenge arms export licenses that have been authorised by states, and when the liability of gun manufacturers is invoked. The report includes analysis on the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report finds that victims of gun violence face a number of obstacles in accessing justice, including:

  • Deficient regulatory frameworks that provide significant protections for the European arms industry, including secrecy for licensing and export agreements.
  • Lack of access to information on arms exports and sales, which makes it difficult for victims to gather evidence and build a case.
  • Limited judicial oversight on weapons exports, as governments are given a wide margin of discretion to authorise exports without comprehensive oversight.

The report also finds that the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, which requires human rights risk assessments, has a decision-making system that is undermined by a lack of transparency.

“This report shows that there are major gaps in accountability for European arms exports,” says León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, researcher at the Asser Institute for International and European Law, and project leader of the report. “Victims of gun violence who have been harmed by European weapons deserve access to justice, and this report provides the first comprehensive diagnosis of these shortcomings.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to improve accountability for European arms exports, including:

  • Strengthening regulatory frameworks to reduce secrecy and increase transparency around arms exports.
  • Ensuring that victims of gun violence have access to information on arms exports and sales.
  • Expanding judicial oversight on weapons exports to ensure that governments are held accountable for their decisions.

The report was drafted by students from the University of Amsterdam’s International Law Clinic on Access to Justice for Gun Violence, in cooperation with the Asser Institute. The Office of the Legal Advisor of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned the report.

“We urge European governments to take action to address the gaps in accountability identified in this report,” says Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, Principal Legal Advisor at the
Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Victims of gun violence deserve justice, and we will continue to work to ensure that they have access to the legal remedies they need. Arms trafficking has become a serious threat in many regions, including in Mexico, but it does not always feature highly on the multilateral agenda. We chose to work with students to inspire younger generations to drive change. Understanding the regulatory makeup of arms control while empowering young leaders is an important first step toward changing this.”

Download the full report 

The students from the International Law Clinic Access to Justice.
From left to right (front row): Viktoria Schmidt, Nada Ben Yahia, Melanie Schneider, and León Castellanos-Jankiewicz (supervisor).
Back row: Felix Hartner and Jasmijn van Dijk.

About León Castellanos-Jankiewicz
Dr León Castellanos-Jankiewicz is researcher in international law at the Asser Institute and academic coordinator of the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research. His work focuses on international human rights law, the history of international law and minority protection. Léon is part of the research strand In the public interest: accountability of the state and the prosecution of crimes, which examines the accountability of states in light of public interest standards in the context of counter-terrorism; and the prosecution of individuals for international and transnational crimes in the public interest. This strand alse investigates the role of journalists, the (new) media, human rights NGOs and academics in protecting and promoting public interest standards.  

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