Peace talks in Sweden offer slender hope for peace in Yemen
We have be writing blogs about the war in Yemen for over three years now going back to the time when it was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’. The group wrote to our local MP to raise concerns about war crimes and we received the usual bland reply from a FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood and a covering note from Mr Glen saying:
However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift. It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.Mr John Glen MP, July 2015
This ‘behind the scenes engagement’ has not yielded anything of any value and indeed, while the slaughter has increased, British arms sales have also increased adding to the misery of this country. It is now estimated over 10,000 have been killed, over 3 million have had to flee their homes and nearly 14 million Yemenis are in fear of starvation.
Over the past 3 years or so, we have reported on critical select committee reports, newspaper revelations about our involvement and trips by our royals, the Foreign Secretary and the prime minister to Saudi Arabia to help promote arms sales. It was originally argued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we had a tough regime to control arms sales to regimes where human rights were ignored. The shear weight of evidence of violations by Saudi Arabia, both with its own citizens and in Yemen, makes this statement hollow.
The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about the conflict in an article in the Guardian saying that the British government is complicit in the death of thousands in the war through its continued sale of arms. He refers to a recently published Christian Aid report pointing to the absurd position our government is in, namely giving half our aid to states and regions affected by chronic violent conflict and at the same time, half our arms sales go to states where military force is used against its citizens. As Dr Williams puts it:
It’s as if we are creating, or at least helping to maintain, the very conflicts whose terrible effects we then spend money of mitigatingBritain’s direct complicity in the war in Yemen must end. Rowan Williams 14 December 2018 The Guardian
The CA report comments on the ambivalence – some might say hypocrisy – of the British government’s position:
The double standards are most stark in relation to the UK’s complicity in the conflict in Yemen. On one hand, the UK is leading calls in the UN for a peace agreement, and is the leading financial supporter of humanitarian aid to Yemenis and the UN Special Envoy’s peace-making endeavours. On the other, it is promoting significant new arms sales to the government of Saudi Arabia and actively supporting military operations of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen. This has included attacks that may amount to war crimes.Christian Aid: For Yemen’s sake: stop selling arms, 13 December, 2018
As events in Yemen got worse and the death toll rose, Britain actually increased its sale of arms to Saudi according to a Sky News report. Despite credible reports of bombing of civilian facilities including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, we went on with our arms sales and provided RAF personnel to advise the Saudis.
The UK government is in something of a bind however. The extent of our arms sales to the Saudis is such that scaling them back would be extremely difficult in terms of the economic impact on parts of the country which depend on them. With Brexit looming – whatever the outcome – we will need all the business we can get. Dr Williams’ plea to stop sales to certain countries is unlikely to receive more than a polite hearing therefore.
This is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the EU and the wider world. The UK Government, as one of the world’s largest aid donors, largest arms exporters and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a global leader on war and peace. There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, in responding to climate change, upholding principles of multilateralism, supporting the UN Peacebuilding Fund, and committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid. Yet undermining these peacebuilding efforts are some stark double standards fuelling war instead. Such as the fact the UK is currently on track to become one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, exporting the majority of its arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If the UK Government is really committed to peace, Christian Aid calls on them to address these stark double standards and champion international law and peace in its foreign and aid policies.Christian Aid, ibid
We hope the peace deal agreed in Sweden will hold and yield results.
The Guardian, CAAT, Sky News, Christian Aid, Amnesty International
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