UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia
The war in Yemen continues and the death toll continues to rise. The UN estimates around half a million people have cholera. They also estimate around two thirds of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance. Yet the UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and half our arms exports go to the country.
The supply of arms is monitored by the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) yet bizarrely, at its most recent meeting, it did not have the supply of weapons to Saudi on the agenda presumably because it has become too sensitive a subject.
There are many worries about arms sales and in particular the use of what are called ‘open licences’. There are also concerns about brass plate companies which are often fronts for brokers. Control Arms UK has submitted evidence to CAEC suggesting that the number of licences has increased by 17% in one year. It is not possible to determine what items are sold under this secretive open licence system since it can be a small item of equipment or a jet fighter. The Government must demonstrate that companies using open licences are subjected to proportionately rigorous and frequent compliance audits. We are ‘most dissatisfied at the Government’s admission that no such audits are ever carried out in respect of UK companies’ operations overseas’ (our italics).
Detailed work by researchers suggests that civilian casualties are running at a far higher level than those documented by the UN. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), at least 56,000 civilians were killed between January 2016 and October 2018. They estimate that from March 2015 to the end of 2018, the number of civilian deaths related to combat could be as high as 80,000. This does not include deaths resulting from disease or malnutrition.
Not only did the select committee not discuss Yemen, but the chair of the committee, Graham Jones MP (Lab) launched an extraordinary attack on the various organisations reporting on what is happening in that country. He accused them of being ‘dishonest’ in their reporting. They were guilty of ‘gross exaggeration’ of what has happened. Much of their evidence was false he said. It was ‘disgraceful how NGOs and loony left organisations have refused to back the UN’s unanimous position’. He denied that the problems there were an airstrike problem but were as a result of economic mismanagement.
His view is that the fault lies with the Houthis and he is in support of the Saudi’s actions there. He was to be seen with Price Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the UK.
The misery in Yemen continues and the government continues to allow the supply of weapons causing huge damage to the country. While the number of air attacks has diminished in 2018, the proportion of those attacks striking clearly civilian targets rose, while attacks on clear military targets fell according to Control Arms. They report that of the 3,362 air raids in Yemen in 2018:
420 air raids hit residential areas
231 hit farms
133 hit transport infrastructure
95 hit civilian vehicles and buses
31 hit educational facilities (schools, institutes, universities, etc.)
Other targets included market places, mosques and medical facilities.
It seems unlikely that the situation will improve although peace talks are continuing. It is disappointing that the chair of the relevant Commons committee should voice opinions which suggest he is less than impartial. Undoubtedly, NGOs and other organisations make errors in reporting on the situation in Yemen but to suggest that it is all a gross exaggeration is not justified. Our involvement in the bombing campaign and the extent of our arms supplies is unconscionable and is fueling the conflict.