Posts Tagged ‘Forensic Architecture’


CAAT Webinar focusing on the role of UK arms firms in causing misery and death in Yemen

The purpose of the webinar was to focus on the role of UK arms suppliers in the continuing war in Yemen.  It featured a speaker from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT; one from Forensic Architecture and thirdly, Emily Thornberry MP.

The UK is not the only, or even the largest, supplier of weapons to the theatre, that role was taken by USA.  We must also not forget the role of the Iranian government who are supporting the Houthi rebels in the conflict.  Half of the Saudi air force is supplied by the UK and that includes spares and maintenance as well to keep them airworthy. US sales have been temporarily suspended by President Biden.

The Saudi government could not continue without UK support they suggested, not just in supplying weapons but diplomatic support as well in the UN.  We reported in 2015 the amazing news that Saudi had a seat on the UN’s Human Right’s Council.  It seems beyond belief that a country which executes people by decapitation with a sword, often in public, denies basic rights to women and uses torture as a matter of course, should have such a seat let alone be supported by the UK government.

The webinar put the role of arms suppliers in the spotlight who refuse to take responsibility for the mayhem their weapons cause.  Thousands have died and schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals have all been the subject of Saudi air raids.  RAF personnel are in Saudi to advise the Saudis yet many of these raids are in breach of International human rights.  There have been 55 airstrikes on health facilities alone. 

Hope for the future

The constant tide of grim stories which emerge from Yemen and the failure of our courts to hold the government to account, might make one despair at change ever being achieved.  The UK depends on the arms industry – and the network of City banks and agents who facilitate the movement of money – for a significant chunk of its exports.  They have been able to continue with this gruesome business because getting news and footage from the country is extremely difficult.  If the carnage was a regular feature of the news on TV things might have changed.  As it is, it can carry on largely unseen.

This might change with the arrival of an organisation called Forensic Architecture.  They are able to use forensic techniques to form linkages between airstrikes and the companies supplying the weapons.  They can show the impact of arms exports and the continuing targeting of civilians.  They can link therefore the sale of a jet to the bombing of a hospital.  Up to now, the companies, supported by the UK government, have been able to claim these violations are isolated incidents following the Court of Appeal decision to ban such sales.  Liz Truss claimed a review had been undertaken enabling sales to continue. Evidence gained by these methods will show complicity and make it harder to argue against complicity in what are war crimes.  This might be a game changer.

Forensic evidence might be a game changer

Emily Thornberry MP

Emily Thornberry is the shadow Secretary of International Trade opposite the minister, Liz Truss MP.  She said there have been 5 years of deceit practised on the British people.  The so called ‘isolated incidents’ based on the curious logic that as they were at different times and in different places therefore they are isolated.  British staff in Saudi ‘were in a different room’ therefore not complicit the minister claimed.  She pointed to the changing statements about the use of cluster munitions.  Her main point was that the UK has come to rely on these sales and it has distorted our policy in the region.  The government is caught in a web of complicity from which it cannot easily escape.  They will never change their position unless forced to do so by the Courts (which on previous experience is unlikely) or public opinion. 

Companies, civil servants and ministers are subject to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  Will a case against those who were complicit in these crimes or who turned a blind eye, find themselves in front of the ICC?

A CAAT report on the arms trade was published today (14th July)


See also Mwatana and the Yemen Data Project and Human Rights Watch


Investigators using a range of modern technology to keep track of human rights violations

Looking at the scale and extent of human rights abuses around the world, it is hard not to feel in despair. The ‘never again’ optimism after the Second World War seems to have melted away with wholesale abuses taking place in Syria, Egypt, China, Myanmar and many other places. China executes more of its citizens than any other country in the world and is incarcerating a million Uyghurs in a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar is another massive tragedy. Egypt is on an execution spree – 16 in one day – and abuses are evident in nearly all the Gulf states.

It seems that nearly all the perpetrators escape justice. Evidence is difficult if not impossible to obtain. Western governments are more than willing to look the other way. The countries concerned are major buyers of weapons – Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for example – which makes them complicit in the crimes.

But it seems as though there may be cause for optimism with an organisation using a range of modern technology to track down the perpetrators and collect evidence with a view to a future trial. Soon to be launched Investigative Commons will be acting as a kind of hub to enable this work to be done. People are familiar with Bellingcat which used similar methods to track down the two Russian GRU agents who came here to Salisbury in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.

A significant advance is made possible by Forensic Architecture who are able to match events to individual arms firms. This is truly ground-breaking and in the case of Yemen, they are assembling evidence which may enable individual politicians and others to be put on trial for breaches of International Human Rights.

Up until now, human rights work has depended on people working in the country concerned which of course is extremely risky. Many human rights defenders, lawyers and other activists have been arrested or executed during the course of trying to look into violations.

A potential game changer

This relatively new method enables information to be collected from a wide range of sources and can be put together for a trial. This represents a major leap in the ability of human rights organisations to keep track of what is happening around the world and may in addition, act as some kind of deterrent to abusers.

The organisation is based in the same office block in Germany as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR which has had some success in Syria. The use of open source information and assembling it into a potential case for the International Court does look like a potential game changer.

No doubt we shall be referring to this organisation in the future.

Source: The Observer 27 June 2021