Posts Tagged ‘Yemen’


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


President temporarily halts arms sales to Saudi Arabia

It’s only temporary, but it may be a start.  It is being cast as part of the normal review of sales which a new president undertakes upon taking office but let us hope that it becomes permanent.  The scale of destruction in Yemen continues apace so anything which acts to reduce it must be welcomed.

Sources: HRW; The Hill


We attach this months DP report thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It is full report this month with a wide range of countries to report on.

Report (Word)


Campaign Against the Arms Trade launches legal challenge

CAAT has launched a legal challenge after the UK government decided to resume arms sales to the Saudis for use in their bombing campaign in Yemen.  We discussed the flimsy grounds and shaky reasoning for this decision in a previous post.  The CAAT post can be accessed here.


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

 


Our latest monthly death penalty report is available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Note that China is the world’s largest executioner but the details are a state secret.

Report, August- September (Word)


Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements.  On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK.  Their assets would be frozen as well.  The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world.  City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected.  Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support.  In his statement he said:

He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first.  These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags.  Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)

All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.

THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi.  The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen.  The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths.  Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked.  Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.

The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced.  Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made.  It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.

Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:

(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.

We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.

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

The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised.  Kate Allen of Amnesty said:

This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales.  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.

Deeply cynical move – AIUK

 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:

This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.  We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.  The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.  Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.


Criterion 2c.  Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Picture credit: Pink News


We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.


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


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Death penalty report (Word)

No to the death penalty