Archive for the ‘Yemen’ Category


The Court of Appeal has granted permission for Campaign Against the Arms Trade to appeal the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The destruction of Yemen continues and our role in that destruction becomes ever more clear as time passes.  The case brought by CAAT failed and it is welcome news that the Appeal Court has allowed an appeal.  The decision was profoundly flawed and needs to be challenged.  It raised disturbing questions, not just about our role in the bombing of Yemen, but how our supposedly independent legal system operates in cases like this.

An analysis of the decision by Oxford Human Rights hub and others revealed profound flaws in the Appeal judges ruling and handling of the case.  These are:

  • statements by the government were taken at face value despite claims that the case would be looked at objectively
  • the judges regarded evidence from NGOs as necessarily being of lesser value than the government’s arguments.  They said they were ‘second hand’ despite the fact that the NGOs had representatives on the ground and had collected considerable first hand evidence of what was happening
  • the close relations the government has with the Saudi government (to which we could add many members of the Royal family) puts them in a good position, it was claimed, to take statements by the Saudis at face value namely that they were compliant with International Human Rights standards
  • the court took no account of the stake the government has in the trade namely that 46% of our arms exports are going to this country.  That this might bias their case was not something that the judges seemed to consider.  Indeed, they went further pointing to the ‘highly sophisticated, structured and multi-faceted process’ of government decision taking in comparison with that of the press and NGOs.  Altogether, the judges exhibited an unduly deferential approach to the government
  • But perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of their judgement was the issue of ‘inference’.  This argument centred on the idea that it was not necessary or practical for the government to infer that civilian causalities and breaches of IHL arose from the supply of weaponry to the Saudis.  Because this destruction was taking place in another country, it was not practical for the Secretary of State to have access to all the relevant information.  So on the one hand, the judges say that the government has a superior and sophisticated decision making process compared to that of the NGOs and media, but on the other hand, when civilians are killed, suddenly they are not in a position to know it was our weapons which were involved.

There are other criticisms of the judgment and the dubious logic on which it was based.  Overall, they seemed to adopt a unduly deferential approach to the government’s position.

In another development the Committee on Arms Export Controls criticized many aspects of the government’s dealings with arms supplies to the region.  One key aspect is the question of brokerage.  This is where a company, registered in the UK, uses a broker to circumvent the controls on the sale of arms.  The Committee concluded:

The Committees conclude that it is a significant loophole in UK arms export controls that a UK company can circumvent those controls by exporting military and dual–use goods using an overseas subsidiary. The Committees recommend that the Government states whether it will close this loophole, and, if so, by what means and in what timescale.

The Committees continue to conclude that it is most regrettable that the Government have still to take any action against “Brass Plate” arms exporting companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK Government policies. 35 The Committees’ Recommendation: The Committees again recommend that the Government sets out in its Response to this Report what steps it will take to discontinue the UK registration of such companies  [Extracts from the Select Committee Report]

The government does not accept the committee’s conclusions on this matter.

In yet another aspect, the government is alleged to use opaque licensing procedures to conceal hundreds of millions of pounds worth of British-made missiles and bombs sold to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen under a licensing system that makes tracking arms sales more difficult.

Currently, the sale of arms is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.  It is clear from the opinion of the sub committee, CAAT and other NGOs that the government is using every stratagem to sell arms to Saudi and to keep on doing so.  Royalty and ministers are pressed into service to keep the Saudi regime sweet.  The effects of our arms – and those of other arms suppliers such as the USA – on the people of Yemen has been devastating.  With 10,000 deaths and many more thousands injured and displaced, it is a calamity on a massive scale.  We must hope that the higher court will overturn the highly dubious and flawed decision.

In the future, post Brexit,  there will be a reduction in the degree of control over this trade in the opinion of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  In a commentary they say:

Either way, it is likely that Brexit will lead to a reduction in the EU’s ability to promote its standards in the field of export controls internationally. […]  If Brexit means the UK starts to water down its export controls in order to facilitate transfers to Saudi Arabia, or otherwise boost its arms exports, the implications may be more severe. Such a move could trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ among EU member states, many of which are seeking to boost their own arms exports in order to help domestic producers offset the impact of post-2008 national defence cuts.

Let us hope they are wrong.  It is likely however that post Brexit, there will be a keen desire to secure trade deals – to include arms sales – with any foreign nation including those with poor human rights records.

Sources:

Oxford Human Rights Hub; Ibid (part 2); Opinio Juris; CAAT; The Guardian; Amnesty International; European Journal of International Law

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Parliament’s concerns are very partial

This week saw parliament reconvene and a major debate take place concerning the attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria.  These attacks took place in a coordinated way by British, French and American forces and the reason for them was claimed to be the crossing of a ‘red line’ by Assad because of his use of chemical weapons in his latest attack.  This led to calls for parliament to be recalled and considerable debate about whether we should have joined in the bombing.  The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin called for a War Powers Act to be enacted to clarify when a prime minister could and could not engage in military actions.

The death and destruction in Syria is appalling.  The use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian areas has caused terrible damage and thousands of innocent citizens have been killed.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 217 thousand civilians have been killed; over 13 thousand have been tortured to death and over 27 thousand children have been killed.  Of those, 80% were killed by Syrian forces and 6% by Russians.  These figures have been broadly supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and White Helmets, an aid agency working in the country.  There has been universal condemnation including by the UN’s Secretary General.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another conflict is underway also causing considerable death and destruction.  As we noted in an earlier post, thousands have died, cholera is widespread, and the country is being steadily bombed back to the stone age.  Millions have been displaced and medical and other humanitarian supplies are prevented from entering the country because of a blockade.  There has not however been much in the way of outrage from parliamentarians about this and no calls to recall parliament.

Another key difference is while Assad is treated as a pariah, the Saudis who are carrying out the Bin Salman sits flanked by Theresa may and Boris John <figcaption> Boris Johnson and Theresa May rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince. c. Getty Images/Bloomberg </figcaption> </figure> son, with members of his entourage and other Government Ministers seated in rows behind bombing of Yemen – including schools, hospitals, civilian facilities and weddings – are feted in the UK, get to meet the Queen and receive visits by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.  This is because we are major suppliers of weapons to the regime.  RAF personnel are involved in some way helping the Saudis. (Picture: Campaign Against the Arms Trade)

It was claimed that the justification for the bombing of Syria was the crossing of the red line.  This suggested that Assad had used chemical weapons for the second time and we had to send a message to deter him.

One problem: it is not the first or even the second time he has done this.  The SNHR estimate that he has used them on 207 occasions and on 174 occasions since the Ghouta attack.

207 chemical weapons attacks by Assad

The very notion that a red line has been crossed is therefore not tenable as Assad has regularly used these weapons, on average three times a month.  In addition to chlorine he has on occasion used Sarin.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives or have lost loved ones in these terrible conflicts.  The destruction of buildings will take decades to do and billions to repair.  In one case we continue to profit from the supply of arms and roll out the red carpet to those who are responsible: in the other case we say a red line has been crossed – which it has on many, many occasions – and bomb the country.


Yemen crisis – three years of conflict

Today, 25 March 2018, marks the third anniversary of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s military campaign in the Yemen.  We have featured this conflict on this site during that time with stories focusing especially on the UK’s involvement supplying arms and logistical support and our involvement generally in bombing Yemen.

5,974 civilians killed during the conflict

Despite three years of war, the conflict shows no sign of abating, and Yemeni civilians continue to suffer at the hands of all parties to the conflict.  Warring parties have consistently shown a brazen disregard for civilian life and the their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.  The devastation wrought and thousands of lives lost continues to fail to attract the level of attention and concern they warrant across the world.

9,493 civilians injured during the conflict

The billion dollar arms deals between Saudi Arabia and its coalition members and a host of western allies have continued throughout the past year despite mounting evidence that Amnesty and others have built to show the high risk such weapons will be used to in unlawful attacks on Yemen.

More that 2 million people currently displaced by the fighting

Hundreds of other Yemeni children have died from the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.  Thousands who have succumbed to malnutrition, and the untold number of civilians killed by airstrikes on homes, streets, weddings and funerals.  This has been the human price of the three-year civil war in Yemen, in which all parties have shown a callous disregard for life, but where the large majority of civilian deaths lies irrefutably at the door of Saudi Arabia.

This is the situation now and the concern is that post Brexit, the arms control regime will be weakened further especially with our desire to create and develop new markets to those lost in Europe.

More than 22.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, sanitation and fuel.

What can I do?  The UK government is indifferent to the suffering in the country and has recently celebrated the latest arms deals following the visit by King Salman.  There are things you can do and in particular send some tweets.  Suggestions include:

  • .@Theresa_may: stop selling weapons that fuel violations, destroy civilian lives in #Yemen #Yemencantwait
  • Hospitals, schools, mosques – it seems nothing off limits.  Stop bombing civilians in #Yemen @King Salman

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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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Yemen

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Yemen
Tags: , , , ,

Article in the Guardian today (2 September) on Yemen.  Unfortunately, the newspaper closed the comments section almost as soon as it was published.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/01/disaster-texas-america-britain-yemen

MSF in Yemen

Posted: July 30, 2017 in arms trade, Yemen
Tags: , , , , , ,

A doctor working for Médicins sans Frontières shares her experiences of working in Yemen

Hella Hultin is a Swedish surgeon who is working for MSF in Yemen.  In the current issue, she writes of her experiences of working in Khameeer in northern Yemen.

We were about to do an appendectomy on a girl, but my Yemeni colleague thought I might be tired after the long journey.  So I sat in the operating room to watch.  Suddenly both our phones rang.  The voice on the other end was stressed asking me to come straight to the emergency room.

“Help! How do I get there?” I thought, while I quickly put on a white coat and hurried out, so fast the cats outside scattered in all directions.  “Emergency?” I asked the attendant outside, and was pointed in the right direction.

When I arrived, the Emergency room was full of people, both patients and relatives.  Many patients were being rolled in on stretchers from the ambulance entrance.  I was told there had been an airstrike and more injured would be arriving soon.  The injured were all covered in dust and dirt, and almost all had wounds from shrapnel.  Several had fractures of the arms or legs, and some had burns on their face and hands.

A desperate husband was running around the room screaming.  When I managed to get the interpreter to translate what he was saying, it turned out he was missing two of his children who had been caught up in the strike.  It’s not hard to imagine his anxiety.

We got to work and ended up operating all night.  We transferred two of the most seriously injured to a larger hospital for specialist treatment that we were unable to provide.

Hours later I made it to bed.  As I lay down, it felt like I’d been there for weeks.

We do not know from this account the nature of the airstrike but there is no suggestion that those injured are military personnel.  Accounts from people working inside Yemen are scarce as the Saudi’s have blockaded the country.  Only a few journalists have managed to get in and there was a radio report last week of BBC’s Radio 4 news (limited time podcast).

We cannot tie this account to a strike using British weapons but we are a major supplier of materiel to the regimeThe High Court recently absolved the UK government in a case brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.


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The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law.  The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.

We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country.  These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate.  10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis.  CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.

Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:

The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.

It further concluded:

Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern.  There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.

A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.

If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.

An Amnesty International spokesman said:

The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes.  This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations.  James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)

It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision.  True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know.  But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts.  And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country.  A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.

Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far.  They are the tail that wags the dog.

Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country.  We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.


Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN

 

 

 

 


The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has finally managed to get the problem of our massive sale of arms to the Saudi regime into court – a process which has taken a considerable degree of legal wrangling.

At issue is our arms sales, put at £3.3bn to the Saudis, and the use of these weapons to bomb a wide range of civilian targets in Yemen.  This has caused untold distress with thousands killed and injured, and there are distressing scenes of malnutrition and dying children.  The Saudis have bombed schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, sometimes returning to bomb the rescue workers causing further mayhem.  An estimated 6,000 have been killed.

They have also been shown to use cluster weapons which have been banned.

In today’s hearings correspondence was revealed from the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson in which he says:

The issue is extremely finely balanced, but I judge at present the Saudis appear committed both to improve processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents.

Picture: MSF

We will of course have to see what the judges decide in this case but in the debate in the House of Commons, one of the key matters discussed was what was described as ‘glacial’ progress by the Saudi government.  Although there are disagreements about the number of incidents, they number around 100 and yet the number investigations have been eight.  A wide range of agencies have criticised the government and the Saudis for the raids including Oxfam, Amnesty, WWF and MSF.

It seems clear that the arms sales tail is wagging the ministerial dog.  It is a real stretch to say ‘the issue is finely balanced.’  If we did not have so much tied up in these arms sales with money, jobs and local economies in the UK dependent on them, it is doubtful we would continue with such clear breaches of international humanitarian law.

We shall no doubt be returning to this topic in due course.


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House of Commons debates the war in Yemen

On 12 January 2017 the House of Commons debated the war in Yemen for the second time in less than a month having already had a debate on it on 19 December.  This has been called the ‘forgotten war’ for some time since all the media and political attention has been focused on Syria.  So it is to be welcomed that this war is now getting its share of attention.  This was an opposition debate led by Stephen Twigg MP.

Results of bombing. Picture: Mintpress News

This is a complex war difficult to summarise but essentially the two main actors are the Saudis and the Houthi rebels.  Both have committed atrocities: the Houthis with massacres, the use of child soldiers and shelling across the border into Saudi territory.  The Saudis by bombing civilian targets and using cluster weapons.  The December debate focused on the use of these weapons, supplied by the UK before their use was banned.  One thing we learned from that debate was that the UK government has offered to exchange cluster weapons for more modern Paveway bombs but it appears the Saudis have not taken up this offer.

To an extent it is a proxy war: part of the long-running Sunni/Shia feud being fought between Iran and Saudi.  There are also tribal politics mixed in.  Although the role of the Houthi rebels was criticised, the point was made that it was we who were arming the Saudis and RAF personnel involved at the command and control centre.

It was lengthy running to just under 3 hours.  A number of points were made.  A major concern was the allegations of abuses against International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the slow pace of investigations  (‘glacial’ was the word used by Stephen Twigg) by the Saudis into them.  Various figures were bandied about but over a hundred seems to be the consensus but only 9 investigations have been carried out in 14 months.

There were many tributes to DFID and its contribution to Yemen but as Stephen Twigg noted:

There is a paradox at the heart of the UK’s approach to Yemen: generous on aid but we contribute to the conflict with our arms sales.

It is interesting that during the writing of this blog, the headline of the Mail on Sunday was the result of a survey which apparently revealed that 78% of people want to end overseas aid and put the funds into the health service which is experiencing a crisis at present.  The Coalition government and now the Conservatives must be praised for maintaining the levels of overseas aid despite considerable pressure from some of their backbenchers and some of the media.

Chris White MP – who is chair of the Arms Export Control Committee – said that the UK should be an example to the rest of the world in terms of our licensing regime.  He reminded the House of rule 2(c) which ‘forbids the authorisation of arms sales if there is a clear risk of a violation of international humanitarian law’.

Comments

It is of course welcome that the House of Commons should have given such time to this debate on Yemen – indeed as we’ve noted the second in less than a month.  The government has had something of a free ride, able to do little to end the conflict and carry on allowing our arms to be sold to Saudi – some £3.3bn worth so far.  It seemed to be SNP (Scottish National Party) members who were the most forthright in condemning the arms sales.  Tasmina Ahmend-Sheikh saying:

If Saudi Arabia and Iran are the puppeteers, we are the quartermasters

There were several calls for a peace process but one seems unlikely at present.  It was alleged that the Saudis are resisting the process, a claim denied by Tobias Ellwood the minister in FCO.

The link between our sale of arms and the devastating effects of those weapons on the people of Yemen although made, was not strongly emphasised.  Part of the problem of course is that although the Conservatives are in power now, many arms sales were made as well during the Labour administrations.  So both parties are tainted.

Tobias Ellwood MP

The government is in something of a bind.  The value of our exports to the region and to Saudi is considerable.  One is reminded of the old adage – variously attributed to John Maynard-Keynes or John Paul Getty –  that if you owe the bank a million pounds you have a problem, if you owe the bank a hundred million pounds, the bank has a problem.  Because billions of pounds of weapons are sold, we are not in a position to exert much control: we are too dependent on the business.   One can imagine polite words being spoken but it was clear from the debate that the Saudis think they can win this so are in no haste to agree peace terms and little more than token efforts are made to limit sales of arms.  Such is the murky world of arms sales anyway, that brokers can quite easily circumvent controls certainly for the more every day weapons.

In the December debate, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon insisted the Saudis were:

on the cusp of a major reform programme of its economy and society

The debate shone a light on the problems of the country and also on the pusillanimous nature of our foreign policy.  Speaker after speaker referred to the terrible state the country was in and the enormous distress of its residents as a result of the war.  It was interesting to note that at least two of the MPs said they were born there presumably from when it was known as Aden.  Worries were expressed about ISIS moving in.

But the fundamental moral issue of our sale of arms to a country which uses them to wreak such havoc on another nation was not rigorously pursued.  The FCO and the MoD would not be seriously disturbed by this debate.

It also provides a clue to life once we leave the EU.  There will be a major push to achieve business with whichever countries we can and the morality of our dealings will not get a look in.  It’s good for business they will say but not good for human rights.

The debate ended with calls for an urgent independent (ie not by the Saudis who are dragging their feet) investigation into reports of breaches of IHL on both sides of the conflict.

 


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Damning criticism of government’s blind eye to arms sales to the Saudi Arabians
Recommends suspension of arms sales to the Saudis

Picture: mintpressnews.com

Followers of this blog will be aware of the attention we have been drawing to the war in Yemen and our government’s role in it.  It started by accident with a letter to our MP Mr John Glen who forwarded a bland reply from a Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  The answers began to unravel quite quickly when it was revealed that, for example, far from reigning in the Saudi’s, we were promoting their membership of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Now the International Development and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committees have produced a lengthy report which is extremely critical on several different levels.  The chair’s summary remarks were:

The UK led the way in establishing international humanitarian law to govern the sale of arms. The conflict in Yemen has raised serious concerns that we are not showing equal determination in ensuring that these are respected.

During this inquiry we have heard evidence from respected sources that weapons made in the UK have been used in contravention of International Humanitarian Law.  The Government can no longer wait and see and must now take urgent action, halting the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition until we can be sure that there is no risk of violation.

We call on the Government to continue the UK’s long-standing commitment to IHL and lead the international community in establishing a strong, independent inquiry. The circumstances surrounding incidents in Yemen, such as allegations of the use of cluster bombs, must be firmly established and send a clear message to all combatants in Yemen that human rights must be respected.

The current system for overseeing the sale of arms must be improved.  At present we do not have sufficient transparency to hold licensing decisions to account or the confidence that the benchmarks ensuring human rights law is respected are high enough. This must be addressed immediately.

Backbench committees do valuable and largely unsung work in the House of Commons and provide an opportunity for members to question government activities more closely than they are able to do in the House itself.

Background

The background situation in the Yemen is dire.  The UN categorises it as a level 3 crisis which is the most severe.  UNICEF say that 1,211 children have been killed and 1,650 injured, both are likely to be under-estimates in view of the difficulty in reporting.  The economy and health care systems are on the verge of collapse.  Over a million people are internally displaced.

Britain however continues to profit from the war by supplying huge amounts of weaponry to the Saudis.  Between April and December 2015 we supplied £1.7bn worth of aircraft and a further £1bn of air-Image result for cluster weaponsdelivered bombs.  More shockingly is that, although we are no longer supplying cluster munitions, previously supplied ones have turned up on the ground.  These weapons kick out tens or hundreds of sub-munitions which saturate an area the size of several football fields.  Duds can be dangerous to children especially who can lose limbs or be blinded if they pick them up.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have provided evidence to the FCO about the use of these weapons.

The report

The report makes interesting reading most particularly concerning the UK government attitudes to the conflict.  It contrasts the FCO’s attitude to the documented evidence it is presented with on the Yemen by NGOs including Amnesty and HRW, which it ignores, with that from Syria where evidence is accepted.  David Mepham, the UK director of HRW said in evidence:

I was at a meeting with [the Foreign Secretary] several months ago when I gave him copies of our report and said, “These are the GPS coordinates; these are the strikes; these are the markets and schools that were hit.” Therefore, he has that evidence. The Foreign Office has had that evidence for months. It is extraordinary that the line comes back that they do not have evidence, when that evidence has been shared with them for a considerable period of time.

Picture: the Independent

The line from the government is that the UK has ‘the most robust arms control export regimes in the world’.  The committee heard evidence of how long this robust arms control regime took to make its decisions: a matter of days.  The hundreds of licences take around 20 or 25 days to approve.  In comparison with other government decision making, this is merely the blink of an eye.  It seems fairly obvious that little control is exercised.  No licence has been refused.

In the face of the hundreds of incidents of schools, marriage ceremonies, factories and hospitals being hit by bombing, the UK government accepts the answers given it by the Saudi government.  The committee was sceptical at FCO reliance on Saudi assurances and said:

We are not convinced that Saudi Arabia is best placed to investigate reports of IHL breaches and their lack of progress with reporting findings only confirms our concerns that they are obstructing progress.  Of 185 incidents reported by UN, HRW and AI, only 9 investigations have taken place

UK personnel

Our involvement is not just limited to supplying weapons but military and civilian personnel are also involved in the control centre and elsewhere.  The claim is that they are not directing the actual bombing.  The committee were not convinced by this argument.

It is impossible, on the basis of the evidence that is before us to claim plausibly that the United Kingdom is not involved.  We provide the aircraft and the bombs.  This level of involvement without being party to a conflict is unprecedented.  This is an area where there is much confusion and greater clarity is needed.  (para 75)

Human Rights

The committee considered our political role in this conflict and our supposed commitment to an international rules based order.  We were now in a tricky position.  UK’s support for the Saudi led coalition primarily through the sale of arms and in the face of violations of International Humanitarian Law is inconsistent with our global leadership role in the world.  The very rules the UK championed – represented by the Arms Trade Treaty – are at risk of unravelling.

The committee heard evidence that the arms companies were a huge source of employment and that if we did not supply the weapons, others would.  An argument which could easily be applied to slavery.

Summary

For the sake of weapons sales, the government has become ensnared with a war which is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster.  Our involvement is much to close for comfort and attempts to dissemble and hide the truth are at risk of unravelling.  We also risk losing the moral argument as well.  It is difficult for us to criticise the Russians and Syrians for their barbaric activities in Aleppo and elsewhere, when we are only slightly removed from doing the same things in Yemen.  So far the government has been lucky: all eyes are on Syria and there are few reports emerging from Yemen.  But this report is a welcome spotlight on the unsavoury and ultimately foolish activities by our government in that country.  They recommend ending arms sales to the Saudis.

On 26 October the House of Commons debated the question of withdrawing support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.  The intention was to send a message to the government that MP’s do not want to support a war without a UN investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law.  Labour MPs did not attend and the vote was lost.  Mr Glen voted against the motion.  So the carnage continues.

The full report


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