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Human rights violations ‘insufficient’ to halt weapon export to Egypt, Dutch court says

The vast Sinai desert (source: WikiMedia Commons

A Dutch top court ruled that The Netherlands is allowed to supply high-end weapon systems to Egypt, despite deep worries by civil rights organizations that the Egyptian marine is involved in fragrant violations of human rights. It contradicts EU legislature that says that EU member states cannot export weaponry when these violate human rights.

Severe human rights violations

Reports by the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant and research collective Lighthouse Reports found that the Egyptian marine had shot eighteen unarmed Palestinian fishermen since 2015. Also it is involved in flagrant violations of human rights in the Sinai desert, where the Egyptian army suppresses the local population under a years-long state of emergency. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report said that Egypt is involved in war crimes, and perhaps even crimes against humanity against the local population in the Sinai. The Egyptian army claims that military action is needed to combat terrorism in the region.

The Netherlands will be exporting high-end naval weaponry to the Egyptian marine in a €114 million deal that was approved by the Dutch cabinet in July 2020. As the HRW report states, the marine is heavily active in the Sinai region, making it likely that these modern weapon systems could be used in the region.

A Dutch lawsuit

Dutch civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the government to stop the weapon deal. However, the Dutch High Court ruled against them, saying there is ‘insufficient evidence’ that Dutch-exported weaponry will be used by Egypt to conduct human rights violations. This sets an important precedent as it is nearly impossible for human rights organizations to obtain persuasive evidence that exported weapons will be used for future human rights violations. Michel Uiterwaal of PAX for Peace – one of the organizations that went to court – thus reacted that “to stop weapon exporting to a country such as Egypt, we now almost have to predict the future”.


The Netherlands is by far not the only western country that exports weapon systems to Egypt. Ironically, western states remain very vocal for democratic inclusion and rights for civil activists in Egypt, one of the most authoritarian countries in the MENA region. The country has seen an enormous crackdown on civil activists after military leader al-Sisi took power in 2013.

Words by western actors are empty when not met with any deeds by western governments, that keep exporting weapons for hundreds of millions of euros to Cairo. It is a classic dichotomy, in Dutch foreign policy often nicknamed as “the merchant and the pastor”. In the MENA, the merchant discourse predominates. To start, it is crucial that the EU univocally stops the export of weapons by its member states to regimes that conduct in widespread violations of human rights.

Sources: Volkskrant I Volkskrant II Lighthouse Reports PAX for Peace Human Rights Watch

Photo: WikiMedia Commons