Posts Tagged ‘Saudi’

Yemen

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Yemen
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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

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MSF in Yemen

Posted: July 30, 2017 in arms trade, Yemen
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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 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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140 killed in air raid on a funeral

Funeral bombing, Yemen. Picture: hang the bankers.com

At long last, the war in Yemen is beginning to attract the attention it deserves.  Most news bulletins still lead on the atrocities in Syria but the horrific events in Yemen where the Saudis bombed a funeral killing 140 and wounding around 500 has at last brought the conflict onto the TV screens.  The bombing, combined with the blockade, is causing untold misery to ordinary Yemenis.  The wounded will struggle to get proper medical treatment because the hospitals are also being bombed and the blockade means medical supplies cannot get through.

We first started drawing attention to the war there over a year ago and raised the matter with our local MP.  A bland letter was received from the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood.  Subsequent revelations have shown that the actions the FCO were claiming to have done were somewhat wide of the truth.

The core issue is the use of our arms (and those of the US, the principal weapons suppliers to the Saudis) are being used in the conflict.  It was also revealed (inadvertently, and no doubt embarrassingly by the Saudis) that British service people were advising the Saudis.  Quite what their role is there is disputed.

This particular attack has been condemned by the UN, the EU and the US.  The Foreign Office still claims there is no need to revoke licences as there is no serious breach of humanitarian law.  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said:

The air strikes on a funeral ceremony was a “heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law.”  He said an independent body to probe rights violations in Yemen must be set up.  There must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war.  Mail on line [accessed 11 October 2016] 

The Saudis are not alone in committing these atrocities and the Houthi rebels are likewise accused.

The Saudis can carry on with their attacks because we supply them with the weapons and we also give the regime a degree of diplomatic cover.  The huge sale of weapons – over £3bn a year – is clearly a factor influencing government policy.  This latest episode is making it harder for the government to ignore what is going on there and our role in helping them.  The mantra about the control of arms sales is still alive and well however:

On the point of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson told The Independent the UK “takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously”

The key test … for our continued licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that those exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” she said. “The situation is kept under careful and continual review.”  Independent [accessed 11 October 2016]

But recent TV filmed reports showing the carnage going on there, hospitals full of emaciated children and widespread starvation caused by the conflict and the blockade will begin to make it harder for the government to keep up the pretence of ‘taking its arms export responsibilities seriously’.


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“Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty to silence dissent sends a chilling message to anybody who dares to speak out against the authorities.” James Lynch
The families of three young men arrested for their involvement in anti-government protests while under the age of 18, fear their sons are among four people reported to be facing execution tomorrow, Amnesty International said today.
The family of Ali al-Nimr expressed fears on social media that he, along with Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, is among the prisoners referred to in a government-run newspaper article published today. The article said the scheduled executions will complete a wave of punishments for terrorism offences that saw 47 people executed on the same day in January.

See the full story:

Executions


Two Saudi Arabian Shi’a activists, arrested when they were under 18 years old, risk being executed as soon as the King ratifies their death sentences.  They were moved to solitary confinement on 5 October and have been held incommunicado since then.  

We attach this month’s urgent action which highlights the case of two men (boys) arrested when they were under the age of 18, tortured into signing a confession and now risk execution.

If you are new to Amnesty urgent actions, they highlight injustices around the world.  You are invited to read the case notes below and write to the addresses provided.  Even if you only write to one, it can help.

Does it work?  Sometimes it does and we have recently celebrated the release of another young man held in Nigeria for the alleged theft of three mobile phones, tortured and was due to be executed.  So it can work …

Urgent action: Saudi Arabia


An about turn

Over the last three months we have been in correspondence with our local MP Mr John Glen over the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  This arose because the French President spoke out publicly against the increased use of the death penalty in Saudi and the barbaric way in which they are carried out.  We also expressed concerns about human rights generally, the use of torture and the dreadful treatment of women.

Mr Glen replied and arranged for a Foreign Office minister to reply as well.  The burden of their replies was that the government took the issue of human rights very seriously and raised the issue of human rights with the Saudis at every available opportunity.  It began to unwind because it was revealed that the Foreign Office had removed the abolition of the death penalty as one of its objectives.  This was only a matter of days following assurances to the contrary from one if its junior ministers in his letter to us.  Earlier this month Sir Simon McDonald, head of the FCO, told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that:

economic prosperity was further up his list of priorities than human rights.

Following the news that a Saudi had been elected to the UN’s human rights council – an astonishing fact in itself – it was discovered shortly afterwards that our own government had facilitated this.  The British government had used its influence to secure the position of someone, patently against human rights, onto the human rights council.  This was a quid pro quo arrangement apparently but since no one was objecting to our application, why it should be necessary was never explained.

We noted that George Osborne had pleased and apparently surprised his Chinese hosts by not mentioning human rights on his recent visit there.  China executes more than any other country in the world and has been arresting and detaining large numbers of people involved in human rights in a major crackdown.  We are shortly to play host to the President of China, Xi-Jinping, who has expressed a wish that human rights are not mentioned during his visit.  Despite their lamentable human rights record he will get the red carpet treatment nevertheless.

Then came the news that a Briton, Karl Andree, was to receive 360 lashes for alcohol offences for which he has already served a prison term.  It might be thought that the Saudi administration would be sensitive to how this might play in the UK.  With the UK government falling over themselves to sell them arms and the Kingdom in an increasingly rocky state financially because of low oil prices, to flog a British national in public is not exactly good PR.

The government responded by cancelling a £9.5m contract to train prison staff.  Again, one might ask what on earth are we doing helping a regime which tortures its prisoners more or less as a matter of routine.  And it has to be noted that this is not an arms contract so its effect is unlikely to be keenly felt.  So it seems that where a Briton is involved the government is willing to react reportedly after a huge ministerial row.  Otherwise, it is business as usual.

On the BBC’s Profile programme (18 October) it was concluded that the deal is that Saudi provides oil and security information in exchange for legitimacy and keeping quiet on human rights abuses.

The statement ‘the government will continue to work towards the complete abolition of the death penalty using all the tools at its disposal’ is unconvincing in the light of these actions.


We have already commented on the revelation that the UK helped secure a seat for a Saudi onto the UN’s human rights council and in a further development, Philip Hammond the Foreign Secretary has declined to deny the story.  Mr Trad, the man who will fill the role, has denounced UN attempts to get the death penalty ended internationally

This is further light on the claim that everything is being done to further human rights internationally.  Mr Glen MP told us a few days ago:

I can assure you that the change of wording is not an indication of a change in policy: the UK government will continue to work towards a complete abolition of the death penalty, using all the tools at its disposal.


Yes, you read that right.  A Saudi by the name of Faisel Trad, who is the kingdom’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, was elected chair of an independent panel of experts on the UN’s human rights council.

This blog – and many, many others – has highlighted the appallingsaudi flogging human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  The big increase in the use of the death penalty, often in public, floggings including that of Raif Badawi and most recently, the proposal to crucify a man.  Along with a lack of free speech, and that women are denied basic rights and cannot drive for example, means that the country ranks as among the worst in the world.

UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer said according to the Independent (20 September):

Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious rights and women’s rights and continues to imprison the innocent blogger Raif Badawi.

It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia is a member of the council, but for the UN to go and name the regime as chair of a key panel only pours salt in the wounds for dissidents languishing ins Saudi prisons.

A UN Watch representative also said “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief”.  It gives Mr Trad power over the appointments of key UN human rights representatives.


We have been engaged in correspondence with our local MP to persuade the government to do more and we await a reply to our letter to him.  This was sparked by the FCO’s decision to drop the abolition of the death penalty as a specific policy.