Archive for the ‘Yemen’ Category


The UK has resumed arms sales to the Saudi regime

In 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government had acted unlawfully by licensing weapons to the Saudi armed forces for use in the Yemen conflict without assessing whether incidents had occurred in breach of International Human Rights law.  Our weapons – along with those supplied by other countries principally the USA – have cause immense damage and suffering to the people of Yemen.  The UN has estimated around 7,700 dead since beginning of the conflict in 2015.  To that must be added the thousands of injured and the destruction of major parts of the country.  The effects on the civilian population have been devastating. 

Hospitals, schools, market places, residential areas, agricultural areas and production facilities have all been bombed using our planes and weapons.  Although mistakes do happen in war and the wrong thing is bombed, the extent of these ‘mistakes’ leads one to assume that there is a deliberate attempt to bomb civilian targets.  We must also note that UK personnel – including people from the RAF – are involved in advising the Saudis so something is going seriously wrong.

The British government maintains – against all the evidence – that there is no risk of IHL violations.  In a Commons statement on 7 July justifying setting aside the Court’s judgement, the minister, Liz Truss MP said:

[…] I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL.  (House of Commons written statement 7 July 2020)

It is worth reading the key passage in this statement which purports to give a justification for this decision:

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses.  It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents.

This reasoning is tenuous in the extreme.  Because violations ‘occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons’ the minister concluded that they are ‘isolated incidents’.  Surely a key factor is the frequency of these incidents especially if your argument is based on the numbers?  The sheer number of civilian targets is way beyond what anyone could describe as ‘isolated’.   The Oxford dictionary describes isolated to mean ‘untypical, unique’: these bombings are neither untypical nor unique.  Another curious aspect of this statement is the phrase ‘for different reasons’ implying knowledge of what the purpose of the raid was yet the statement is full of uncertainties and the difficulty of assessing the incidents.  

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty international said:

How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.

This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law. The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.  (New York Times, 7 July 2020)

It is small wonder that human rights organisations have reacted with horror at the decision and the speed with which the minister set about reinstating arms shipments to Saudi.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade described the decision as ‘rank hypocrisy’.

The government is determined to sell arms to the Saudi and seems genuinely unconcerned at the fate of those on the receiving end.  Liz Truss’s argument about isolated incidents is almost insulting.  So great is the scale of the business that stopping it or seriously scaling it back is economically impossible.  Truly it is the tail which wags the dog.

Sources: BBC, CAAT; New York Times; Human Rights Watch; Independent; The Guardian

 


UK government continues to sell arms to Saudi in violation of court ruling

This post is almost entirely based on a post by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, concerning the continuing sale of arms to the Saudi regime despite a court decision telling them to stop and the devastating effects these weapons are having on the people of Yemen.

It’s one year since CAAT won a landmark victory at the Court of Appeal challenging the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  As a result of that ruling, we have stopped the export of new weapons for use in the war in Yemen.  A multi-billion pound deal to sell more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia remains on hold.

This is significant progress, but there is more to do.  The government is fighting every step of the way to continue the arms sales.  It is appealing to the Supreme Court for a final decision, with the hearing scheduled for 23-25 November.  Meanwhile the government has still not complied with the Court of Appeal ruling that it should retake its previous decisions to allow weapons sales, and it is continuing to supply the war in Yemen.  It’s not just CAAT lawyers who are demanding answers; in today’s Observer (21 June 2020) all of the Opposition parties have united to call for urgent action.

We must end UK complicity in the war in Yemen.  Thousands of people have been killed by five years of bombing, many more by hunger and disease, and now Yemen is facing a dual threat of cholera and COVID-19 with a health system shattered by war.  One estimate is around 8,000 have died.  There seems no end in sight to the conflict.

Shamefully, UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have played a central role in this destruction.  CAAT’s case challenges the sale of these weapons.  UK rules state that weapons should not be sold where there is a “clear risk” that they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law.  Yet the UK government has continued to support the supply of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, even as it has bombed schools, hospitals and food supplies.  If the government won’t follow its own rules, we need to make it do so.

In last year’s ruling, the Court of Appeal found that that the government had failed to properly assess the risk of weapons exported from the UK being used in violations of international humanitarian law.  The government was ordered to retake all its previous decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, in a lawful way.  New arms sales were put on hold until this review is complete.  The government agreed to undertake the review as a matter of priority.  Yet, one year on, it has still not completed the review ordered by the Court.  All the time that review has not been completed, weapons sales can continue under pre-existing licences – and BAE Systems can still maintain the warplanes bombing Yemen.

So we must keep the pressure on. The government was ordered to retake its decisions, not just carry on with business as usual.

Sources: Amnesty International; Observer; Global Conflict Tracker, CAAT


Letter from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, to the Observer

We have featured on these pages the continuing scandal of arms sales to the Saudi regime.  Not only the destruction of large parts of Yemen these weapons are used for, but the fact that the Saudi regime’s repression of its own people and denial of human rights.  After China, they are the world’s second biggest executioner often following unfair trials and confessions extracted through torture.  But no matter, there’s money to be made.

Kate Allen discusses these factors in her letter to the Observer newspaper on Sunday 10 May 2020:

It is, as you say, long over overdue that the UK government put its relationship with Saudi Arabia on a healthier footing (Now is the time to distance ourselves from an odious regime, editorial 3 May, 2020).  For years, the UK has claimed behind-closed-doors diplomacy with Riyadh has been better than “lecturing” the kingdom over its appalling humans rights record.  Yet repression has only worsened including under the suppose reformer Mohammad bin Salmon.  Now virtually every human rights activist in the the country has either been locked up, intimidated in to silence or forced the flee the country.

We have sole Riyadh plenty of weaponry, but the UK hushed policy on Saudi human rights has sold the country’s embattled human rights community shamefully short.

The weapons are used in the war in Yemen the bombing of which has caused appalling damage to the nation’s infrastructure.

Attacks by the Saudi-led coalition have destroyed infrastructure across Yemen. Saudi forces have targeted hospitals, clinics and vaccinations centres.  Blockades have starved the population and made it hard for hospitals to get essential medical supplies.  Source; Campaign Against the Arms Trade

The UK is complicit: many of the Coalition’s attacks have been carried out with UK-made fighter jets, and UK-made bombs and missiles – and the UK government has supported them with billions of pounds of arms sales.

 


Four journalists in Yemen face the death penalty, simply for telling the world the truth about suffering in Yemen

The news is so dominated by Covid-19 that events around the world do not get reported.  The treatment of journalists in Yemen is worthy of our concern however and we hope you will spend a few moments clicking on the link below to the Amnesty site and take the necessary action.

Akram, Abdelkhaleq, Hareth and Tawfiq were just doing their job when they were detained and charged with “spying” and “creating several websites on the internet and social media.” They have now been detained, alongside six other journalists, for five years.  Abdelkhaleq’s family say that other detainees have heard him screaming as he was being tortured. Every day, journalists around the world face intimidation, imprisonment and violence, for reporting on human right violations.  No-one should be sentenced to death just for doing their job.

The Huthi de facto authorities recently pardoned Hamid Haydara, a prisoner of conscience also sentenced to death.

If we pressure the authorities, the same can happen for Akram, Abdelkhaleq, Hareth and Tawfiq.

Call on the Huthi de facto authorities to immediately quash their death sentences, and release all ten journalists.

This is an Amnesty post.  You can go to the Amnesty site and get to the petition here

 


UN Human Rights Council publishes a report yesterday (3 September 2019) on human rights infringements by Britain France and USA

The UN’s panel of eminent experts on Yemen has today published a damning report on the activities of the UK government and others into the atrocities being committed in Yemen.  They conclude that international human rights law has been infringed.  The most damning conclusion is:

The Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, continued to have an extreme impact on civilians and many of these attacks may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The Experts further found reasonable grounds to believe that, in addition to violations related to the conduct of hostilities, the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen are responsible for arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment, child recruitment, violations of fundamental freedoms, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights.  These amount to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Subject to determination by an independent and competent court, many of these violations may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has waged a long legal battle with the UK government which was successful in June  persuading the Court of Appeal that the Secretary of State’s actions were ‘irrational and therefore unlawful.’

Further background on the UN report can be found in a Guardian article 3 September.

Another extract from the report details activities we have previously highlighted:

The report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties.  The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.  Based on the incidents they examined, the Group of Experts have reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes.
“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen.

The UN report can be accessed here.


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Good news today that the Court of Appeal has upheld the appeal by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade who are trying to stop the British government supplying lethal weapons to the Saudis who are using them to cause terrible death and destruction in Yemen.

There will be more about this in future posts.  A previous post on this subject can be read here.

 


Congress votes to end military aid to Saudi

In our last post two days ago, we highlighted the Dispatches programme which described in graphic detail the role our weapons supplies were having in Yemen.  The Saudis, using jets supplied by us, were creating suffering on an almost unimaginable scale with tens of thousands of deaths, a cholera outbreak and starvation of its people.

Today, 4 April 2019, the US Congress has voted 247 to 155 to end military aid to Saudi Arabia.  Further votes are planned to stop weapons supplies as well.  It is expected that President Trump will veto the actions but nevertheless, it sends a strong message of what Americans think of this terrible regime and its countries continuing military support for it.

This puts the UK in a tricky position.  A chief ally stepping back leaves this country somewhat exposed.  We shall have to see over the coming days what feeble excuses are trotted out to justify our support and role in the killing.

Sources: The Nation, Washington Post, the Guardian

 


Channel 4 Dispatches programme shows Britain’s involvement in this terrible war

On Monday 1 April 2019, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme showed some terrible scenes from the war in Yemen and the death and destruction which is taking place.  The war has resulted in considerable misery for thousands of civilians and the programme reported that around 55,000 children under 5 have died from malnutrition as a result.

They focused on a bus which containing school children which was bombed in a market place killing 40.  They were able to find a young survivor who had suffered shrapnel wounds but was lucky to have escaped with his life.  He was understandably still traumatised.

Britain – as we have noted in this blog many times before – is a key supplier of weapons and the main supplier is BAE Systems who sell the Typhoon fighter jet.  It is these jets, along with those supplied by the Americans, which are used to bomb Yemen and in particular, schools, mosques and hospitals.

In addition to supplying jets and munitions, the programme revealed that 6,000 BAE staff were working there involved in the crucial business of keeping the jets flying.  They managed to excuse their activities by claiming that because they do not actually handle the weapons – the final 5% as someone put it – therefore they were not mercenaries.  They also reported that British military personnel (which we know to be from the RAF) were also involved.

A great deal of time was spent interviewing various individuals concerning the ethics of supplying weapons – especially jets and their rockets – which are used by the Royal Saudi Air Force to cause such misery.

‘Dancing with the Devil is sometimes worth it’ former Air Vice-Marshall Sean Bell

One person interviewed was former Air vice-Marshall Sean Bell who argued that if we were not involved it could be a whole lot worse.  This seemed to be based on the notion that we were in some way moderating the Saudi activities which seemed a weak argument especially in the light of the rest of the programme.  He said ‘dancing with the devil is sometimes worth it’ because of the influence it gives us, not just with the Saudis but also in the Middle East generally.  Our involvement and dependence on Saudi arms sales was featured in a Channel 4 news item with Bell.  A Twitter feed on this topic can be found at @c4dispatches.

The British government has also been engaged in some dubious thinking based also on the notion of influence.  The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP said in the House of Commons:

Because of our commercial relations with Saudi Arabia we are actively monitoring their compliance with International Human Rights law and we have a lot of contact with them […] We raise concerns with them if we think things are going wrong.  Clip from the Dispatches programme

This concept of maintaining contact so that we can exert influence took a knock in the programme because it was revealed we have in fact next to no influence.  Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that attempts to hold back the Saudis seemed ineffectual since their attitude was to ‘act quickly and ask questions later.’

Further damage to the notion of influence was evidence from an American official sent to investigate after the school atrocity.  It seems our personnel were ‘not where it mattered’ [in the control room that is] but that there was a separate floor where the operations were actually being directed.  More damagingly, most of the strikes are not in fact controlled from Riyadh but are what are called ‘dynamic strikes’ conducted by SRAF pilots without reference to the control room.  They do not have in their cockpits the vital information about which targets are safe to be hit.

Conclusions

Britain’s involvement in this war is calamitous for the country itself and our influence and reputation.  We can hardly complain about Russia’s activities in Syria when we are only one remove from doing the same in Yemen.  Because sale of arms to Saudi Arabia is so important and lucrative, we are not in a position to end it without significant damage to our balance of payments.  The only beneficiary of this trade are the shareholders of BAE Systems and other arms firms and dealers.  The losers are of course the 60,000 dead in Yemen.

In addition to the use of our weapons in this terrible war, is the fact that we have given support to this regime, a regime which systematically uses torture and has closed down any form of dissent and freedom of speech.  Again the arguments are about our ‘influence’ which seems to be all but invisible.  Members of the royal family are regularly rolled out to visit and add a veneer of respectability to the Saudi royals.

When Mohammad bin Salman assumed power the talk was of a reforming monarch.  This disintegrated following the Khashoggi murder and more arrests of human rights activists.

The final word should perhaps go to Andrew Mitchell MP, interviewed on the programme, who said:

History will judge it as an appalling failure of British foreign policy

 


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[5]
 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.

 

 

 


Asmaa al Omeissy is facing execution by a Houthi court in Yemen

Asmaa is 23 year old mother of two who was sentenced to death by the Houthi aligned Specialised Criminal court in Sana’a, Yemen.  She is expecting the final verdict in a few days on 4 February.  There is good evidence that she was tortured in prison and that conditions in prison are dire.  She was denied access to a lawyer.  She is separately sentenced to 100 lashes for an ‘indecent act’ because she travelled in a car with co-defendants to whom she was not related.

Amnesty is organising a campaign on Twitter and if you are able to take part that would be helpful for her cause.

A suggested tweet :

  • Asmaa al-Omeissy is the first known #Yemenis #woman on death row on ‘state security’ charges.  Her conviction came after a grossly unfair trial and the court rejected her appeal on 3 December.  #saveAsmaa

We suggest the following targets to add to your tweet:

  • Houthi representatives at the peace talks: @aleji77 @abdusalamsalah
  • special envoy: @ose-Yemen
  • Omani Ambassador to the UN :@oman_un

If you want to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook for one of our events and come along and make yourself known.