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Students Amsterdam Law Clinic: 'Europe has a gun problem'

Published on 25-08-2023 09:45
Victims of gun violence committed with European weapons face significant challenges in accessing justice in European courts. A new report, drafted by UvA students from the Amsterdam International Law Clinic, concludes that the EU Common Position on Arms Exports has a decision-making system that is undermined by a lack of transparency.
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Master's students Amsterdam International Law Clinic
Master's students from the International Law Clinic of the UvA. 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.

Europe has a gun problem. Master's students of the Amsterdam International Law Clinic found major gaps in accountability for European arms exports. Their report titled Access to Justice for Gun Violence: Seeking Accountability for European Arms Exports (pdf) assesses the mechanisms in place in 11 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.

Obstacles in accessing justice

The law students found during their research 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.

During the Amsterdam International Law Clinic, the students also found 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,’ said 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.’

Recommendations for improvement

In the report are 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.

Justice for victims of gun violence

The report was drafted by Master's students from the Amsterdam International Law Clinic, in cooperation with the Asser Institute for International and European Law in The Hague. 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.’