140 killed in air raid on a funeral
At long last, the war in Yemen is beginning to attract the attention it deserves. Most news bulletins still lead on the atrocities in Syria but the horrific events in Yemen where the Saudis bombed a funeral killing 140 and wounding around 500 has at last brought the conflict onto the TV screens. The bombing, combined with the blockade, is causing untold misery to ordinary Yemenis. The wounded will struggle to get proper medical treatment because the hospitals are also being bombed and the blockade means medical supplies cannot get through.
We first started drawing attention to the war there over a year ago and raised the matter with our local MP. A bland letter was received from the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood. Subsequent revelations have shown that the actions the FCO were claiming to have done were somewhat wide of the truth.
The core issue is the use of our arms (and those of the US, the principal weapons suppliers to the Saudis) are being used in the conflict. It was also revealed (inadvertently, and no doubt embarrassingly by the Saudis) that British service people were advising the Saudis. Quite what their role is there is disputed.
This particular attack has been condemned by the UN, the EU and the US. The Foreign Office still claims there is no need to revoke licences as there is no serious breach of humanitarian law. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said:
The air strikes on a funeral ceremony was a “heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law.” He said an independent body to probe rights violations in Yemen must be set up. There must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war. Mail on line [accessed 11 October 2016]
The Saudis are not alone in committing these atrocities and the Houthi rebels are likewise accused.
The Saudis can carry on with their attacks because we supply them with the weapons and we also give the regime a degree of diplomatic cover. The huge sale of weapons – over £3bn a year – is clearly a factor influencing government policy. This latest episode is making it harder for the government to ignore what is going on there and our role in helping them. The mantra about the control of arms sales is still alive and well however:
On the point of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson told The Independent the UK “takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously”
The key test … for our continued licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that those exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” she said. “The situation is kept under careful and continual review.” Independent [accessed 11 October 2016]
But recent TV filmed reports showing the carnage going on there, hospitals full of emaciated children and widespread starvation caused by the conflict and the blockade will begin to make it harder for the government to keep up the pretence of ‘taking its arms export responsibilities seriously’.