The UK has reaffirmed its commitment to support the world's worst humanitarian crisis, reports Terina Hine
The conflict in Yemen has cost an estimated 100,000 lives, with 80 per-cent of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance. There is evidence of indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition, with the repeated targeting of weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said “the crisis is of cataclysmic proportions”. But despite all of this the UK announced yesterday that it will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
In June last year, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade won a legal challenge forcing the government to suspend all new export licences for arms that might be used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The Court of Appeal ruling required the UK government to investigate whether there had been human rights violations by the Saudi coalition in Yemen, prior to the granting of further export licences. This investigation has now concluded, and although it recognises that there were some “possible” violations of international humanitarian law, this did not amount to “a serious violation”. So, it seems that sales of deadly weapons and fighter jets to a murderous regime happy to indiscriminately bomb a civilian population is, apparently, within the law.
The Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen, dependent on the arms sales by BAE Systems, in turn dependent upon the government granting export licences, have been responsible for two thirds of civilian deaths in the country. Save the Children reported in February that the coalition had killed another 26 children in a single air strike - a vivid reminder of the incident in 2018 when children’s bodies sprawled over the roadside after a Saudi-led strike killed 29 children travelling on their school bus. Similar attacks on marketplaces, funeral halls and hospitals have been reported repeatedly since the war began in 2015.
Yet the government has concluded that there has been no “pattern” of Saudi Arabian air strikes violating international law, and thus no breach has taken place. Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, said that where violations had occurred, they were “isolated incidents”.
This begs the question of how many such isolated incidents are required for a pattern to be discernible and a breach of international law to occur. According to Truss, if such incidents take place at “different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons” they do not represent any such breach. Truss went so far as to claim that “Saudi Arabia has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with [international law].”
Government officials will now begin work on clearing the backlog of licence requests that have accumulated over the year since the suspension came into force. Not only will this enable the war on Yemen to continue unabated but may well lead to an escalation as the future supply of arms to the Saudi regime is now secured.
BAE Systems, the UK’s largest defence contractor, must be rubbing its hands with glee. Riyadh represents 15% of BAE’s annual earnings and is its biggest single export contract. BAE has sold £15bn worth of arms to the Gulf kingdom over the last five years, principally to supply and maintain the Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used in the Yemeni bombing missions.
Dominic Raab earlier this year claimed that the UK government was “absolutely committed to the United Kingdom being an even stronger force for good in the world.” On Monday, with great fanfare, the government announced the imposition of sanctions against individual human rights abusers, including 20 Saudis associated with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Yet only 24 hours later it became clear that £5.3bn worth of arms export licences take precedence over any ‘force for good’ or indeed the lives of innocent Yemenis.
The war in Yemen has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today - almost 50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition - with 9.5 million unable to access safe water, sanitation or hygiene. On top of all of this, with a severely depleted and bombed-out healthcare system, the country faces Covid-19. With the resumption of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia it is clear that our government is enabling the war on Yemen, providing both military support and hardware.
As an anti-war movement we must make our opposition clear. This war is unjust, is targeting the civilian population, hitting women and children hardest, and our government is complicit. We must step up the campaign against the UK’s continued support for the war on Yemen.
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