The UN to send a team of experts to the Yemen
UK government tried to frustrate this
The United Nations has just announced in the last few days, that it is to send a team of ’eminent international and regional experts with knowledge of human rights law and the context Yemen for a period of at least one year’. (HRC 36) They will conduct a ‘comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law.’
Readers of this blog and elsewhere will be aware by now of the dire situation in that country. The latest figures, reported by the BBC, show that over 8,500 have been killed, mostly in air strikes, and around 48,000 injured. A cholera epidemic has hit the country and over 700,000 are affected by that. Matters are made worse because hospitals are bombed and there is a blockade hindering or preventing medical supplies getting through. About 20 million citizens are in need of aid of some kind.
The crisis has come about because of Houthi rebels fighting government forces. What has made matters worse is the aid the UK and other governments have provided to the Saudis. In the past these have included cluster munitions – now banned but allegedly still being used – and Paveway bombs to replace them. RAF personnel are involved in the control room but it is claimed they are not involved with the actual bombing. The involvement of British military personnel was kept secret and was only known when it was revealed by the Saudis themselves. Targets have included weddings, funerals, schools, markets and medical facilities. Only recently, Amnesty reported on residential building hit by a US made bomb killing 16 civilians. This was due to a ‘technical error’ it was claimed.
The establishment of a team to look into human rights violations is to be welcomed and in a statement, Amnesty International said:
A resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council today, authorising the establishment of group of international experts to investigate abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, is a momentous breakthrough that will pave the way for justice for countless victims of human rights abuses and grave violations of international law, including war crimes.
The resolution was passed in Geneva today by consensus, after intensive negotiations. It is the result of years of campaigning and lobbying by Yemeni human rights organisations as well as Amnesty and other international human rights and humanitarian organisations. 30 September 2017
Negotiations have been intense reportedly and it was the Canadian and Netherlands governments holding firm which secured a result. The US, UK and French governments were dragging their feet. This is because these governments have significant and lucrative weapons sales to the Saudis. Only a few days ago, success did not look promising with the Daily Mail reporting a stalemate. The actions by our government, the US and France prevented a proper commission of enquiry.
The Guardian reported on 24 September the UK’s role in seeking to block the enquiry:
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson last week rejected the need for such an inquiry, arguing that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details” about Yemen.
But the revelation that the UK neutered EU attempts to bring about such an investigation is likely to raise questions about its motives. Since the conflict began, the UK has sold more than £3bn worth of weapons and military equipment to the Saudis and defence contractors hope more deals are in the pipeline.
“Blocking attempts to create an international inquiry is a betrayal of the people of Yemen who have suffered so much during this conflict,” said Polly Truscott of Amnesty International. “It’s shocking. The UK ought to be standing up for justice and accountability, not acting as a cheerleader for arms companies.”
Human Rights Watch has also spoken out about the role of our arms sales in worsening the conflict. With Brexit on the horizon, the need to secure such arms sales will only increase and indeed, the Trade Secretary Liam Fox is off to Saudi soon to try and secure more sales of aircraft.
UPDATE: 2 October
A number of stars wrote to the Observer on 1 October calling for a ban on arms sales to Saudi. Names include: Ian McEwan; Bill Nighy; Phillip Pullman.
Sources: Amnesty; BBC; The Daily Mail; Human rights Watch; Middle East Monitor; UN; Observer; Guardian
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