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Yemen’s calamity – blood on Britain’s hands

a-shameful-relationshipThe Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has published a new report, A Shameful Relationship: UK Complicity in Saudi State Violence by David Wearing. It exposes how the UK’s supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia for its devastating bombing of Yemen systematically violates international law.

UK-made aircraft, bombs and missiles have been used in the bombing and our Government continues to offer training and support to the Saudi regime. The report states

One year into the intervention in the civil conflict in Yemen by a Saudi-led military coalition, 6,400 people have been killed, half of them civilians, including 900 children, and more than 30,000 people have been injured…. The large majority of these casualties have been caused by Coalition air strikes in a campaign where combat aircraft supplied by the United Kingdom have played a significant role.”

Yet the British Government has downplayed the UK role, denying that it is directly involved in Saudi operations, despite UK military personnel being in the Coalition command room and having access to the list of targets. “Legally, direct participation could render UK forces jointly responsible for laws-of-war violations by the Coalition,” the report argues.

Leading humanitarian organisations have documented a huge number of violations of international law committed by the Saudi-led coalition with UK arms directly implicated in civilian deaths. Within a month of the bombing campaign, the report states:

Amnesty International was calling for ‘urgent investigations’ into ‘the killing of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children’, by ‘relentless’ Coalition airstrikes that were forcing ‘millions of people… to live in a state of utter terror’. On 19 April 2015, the Coalition bombed an Oxfam warehouse containing humanitarian aid. Unperturbed, the UK government approved a £1.7bn arms export licence for Saudi Arabia on 14 May 2015, covering combat aircraft and related components.”

Earlier this year, a report by a UN panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaign confirmed a pattern of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets, specifically documenting “119 coalition sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law.” These included “three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters”.

The report looks into the background of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. It’s an unedifying story of potential conflicts of interest as personnel move seamlessly from the UK diplomatic and military establishment into the arms industry in an endless revolving door. The scope for corruption was exposed by a police investigation into allegations of bribery involving Saudi officials and arms company BAE. The investigation was abandoned in 2006 only after intense pressure from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, himself under pressure from the Saudi regime. The decision to halt the investigation was successfully challenged by CAAT in the courts – but the result was overturned on appeal. The report argues

The Saudi regime’s serial violations of international law in Yemen are the latest example of the cost of arming Saudi Arabia… Calls on the UK to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been made by the UN Secretary-General, Save the Children, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the House of Commons’ International Development Committee, the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, and MPs from the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, and the SDLP. While an arms embargo is needed now, it was clear long before the intervention in Yemen that arms sales to the Saudi regime were dangerous and immoral.”

CAAT are going back to the high court to challenge UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. As the report concludes:

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are certainly immoral, and should be illegal. The government’s own export controls prohibit sales where the arms could be used in internal repression, would aggravate existing conflicts or could be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law. By any commonsense definition, UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia violate these criteria.”

CAAT are also going to the BAE Systems AGM on 4 May to hold it to account. Meanwhile the attacks on Yemen are unleashing a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Syria, yet it’s far less reported. It’s estimated that 28 more children are dying every day as a result of the conflict.

Writing recently in Labour Briefing, Glen Rangwala observed:

Yemen’s population is desperately poor, by far the poorest in the Middle East. The GDP per capita in Yemen is $3,800, compared to its Saudi neighbour at $52,000. The air strikes have destroyed basic infrastructure, caused mass internal displacement and killed thousands of innocents. Perhaps more cruelly, the sea blockade has prevented the import of food and fuel, which has resulted in an escalation of prices that leaves them unaffordable to all but the wealthiest. Yemen is on the verge of a large-scale humanitarian disaster, brought on entirely by this unremitting offensive.”

Once again Britain is embroiled in another Middle Eastern calamity, with blood on its hands in the pursuit of profits.


  1. David Pavett says:

    It should be added that Hilary Benn has been pressing for action on this issue:

    UK arms sold to Saudi Arabia may breach international law in Yemen, Labour says

    Britain told to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia

    Urgent Question on arms sales to Saudi Arabia: 28 January 2016

    Britain is weaker if our principles are for sale

    Where Labour is pressing in th right direction we need to make that clear and to give our support.

  2. Bazza says:

    Yes and do you remember Cameron going to Saudi Arabia a few years ago to promote arms sales.
    He probably did a deal to support them in Yeman whilst looking the other way but I asked at the time why we appeared to be taking sides in an apparently Sunni/Shia conflict?
    I also wonder if one of the goodies Cameron also agreed was a deal to reduce oil prices per barrel (which would also help Saudi in its battle to break the rival US shale industry).
    And do you remember how the knock on effect of the oil per barrel reduction brought down prices and for a while made people feel a bit better off JUST BEFORE A GENERAL ELECTION!
    Grubby deals between a Grubby Tory/Lib Dem Govt (though the latter will have been a bit too dim to know what was really going on) and a horrible unelected Saudi regime.

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