Posts Tagged ‘Yemen’


UK big four accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers in bid to help Saudi Defence

We still tend to think of professional accountants as respectable members of society.  Accountants are often the butt of jokes about being dull, boring and pedantic their very dullness being some kind of recognition of respectability.  This (respectability that is) is still likely to apply to the small and middle sized firms that inhabit the high streets around the country.  It does not apply to the big four firms of which PwC is one.  There has been a string of financial failures involved these accountancy firms and in the case of PwC, they have recently been fined a staggering $625m for audit failure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp in the USA on top of other audit failures including Merrill Lynch, RSM Tenon and famously BHS.  They are also involved in the Carilion collapse.  It is a wonder therefore that they continue to enjoy the influence they do but they are closely involved with both main political parties in the UK and in advising the Treasury.

In addition to audit incompetence is their role in tax avoidance.  This is on an ‘industrial scale’ according to a parliamentary committee and involves the design of complex schemes to shuffle money to various tax havens.

We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale,” said Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 2015

Billions of tax is thus avoided and the moral element of their actions is being questioned more and more.  As the Journal of World Business puts it:

These included apparent PwC entities based in jurisdictions known as tax havens, including for example the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg and Mauritius.  In regards to the Big 4′s role in the overall tax strategy of Multinational Enterprise’s (MNEs), it is the earlier ‘LuxLeaks’ of November 2014 which has provided a number of clear insights. These documents showed that PwC assisted MNEs to obtain at least 548 legal but secret tax rulings in Luxembourg from 2002 to 2010.  53(2018) [accessed 1 August 2018]

Further damage

So in addition to audit blunders, and tax avoidance activities on an industrial scale, what more can PwC do to damage its reputation still further?  Never underestimate the skill of a big four accountancy firm to carry on digging once it’s in a hole. It was revealed in Guardian newspaper on 1 August that the firm is negotiating to land a major contract to help streamline and modernise Saudi Arabia’s military.  Readers of this blog will be aware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in the humanitarian crisis engulfing Yemen, aided by weapons and personnel supplied by the UK.  That a major UK accountancy firm should risk its reputation still further by getting involved in the conflict is hard to understand.

It is also hard to understand in the context of its stated policies of which its website is replete.  This is their human rights statement :

We believe it’s our responsibility to respect and uphold the human rights of our people and any other individuals we are in contact with, either directly or indirectly.  Our unwavering commitment to human rights is demonstrated through our actions, our involvement in voluntary initiatives like the UN Global Compact1, PwC’s Global Human Rights Statement and related guidance for our people.

We work to guard against complicity in human rights abuses, comply with applicable labour and employment laws, and draw on internationally recognised labour principles in how we do business. Our approach to human rights is already well integrated into our existing business practices, for example as part of our Human Capital, Procurement, Ethics & Compliance and Corporate Responsibility activities.

In connection with human rights issues with clients :

If we have concerns that our work will be directly linked to human rights violations by a client, discuss our concerns with relevant parties, seek to mitigate the impacts and only proceed if we are comfortable that our work will not contribute to human rights violations.

Be prepared to walk away from clients and engagements where our integrity could be called into question if we continued

Pious words indeed and giving the impression of a firm committed – sorry, ‘unwaveringly committed’ – to protecting and upholding human rights standards internally and with those it does business.  Yet it is bidding for work in Saudi where beheadings are routine, torture is endemic, women’s rights are tightly restricted and which is engaged in a brutal war in Yemen with thousands dead and many more suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Amnesty

In a statement, Amnesty International said :

Like any company, international accountancy firms should ensure that they avoid contributing to human rights violations in their operations, or being directly linked to them by their business relationships.

We’d like to know what due diligence the company has done.  The United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights make it clear that a company may be viewed as complicit if they are seen to benefit from abuses committed by another party

In the Guardian piece, they say they asked PwC what due diligence it had done but the firm did not respond.

Assisting this regime – and in particular its defence activities – is to be deprecated.  One wonders whether the firm will rethink its tender?  Will it walk away?’  Unlikely.  The big four accountants are now so large (PwC had revenues of $37.7bn in 2016) so infused with hubris and so imbedded with the political process and government that a rethink is unlikely.

Sources: Guardian; Tax Justice Network; Independent; Accountancy Age; Economia; Internal Audit 360°; PwC’s website


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The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, aims to ease the suffering of women in conflict areas.  Will action follow?

We have often posted items on this site concerning our support for, and arming of, the Saudi regime in its war in Yemen and the awful human toll that this has caused.  Thousands have died, cholera is at epidemic proportions and civil society has been catastrophically damaged.  A blockade is making matters worse.  The has been considerable evidence that UK arms have been used to attack civilian targets including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals.  Yet we continue to aid the Saudis and the sale of weapons continues.  The Royal family is used to visit the regime and to welcome them here on a recent state visit.  The sale of weapons is so valuable that any concern at the destruction caused is effectively ignored.

In the context of the Yemen, as in many other conflicts, it is women and children who suffer often disproportionately.  The destruction of their community, the bombing of medical facilities and schools, the difficulty in acquiring food and clean water, all make life extremely difficult for them.  So it was interesting to read that the Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, attended a meeting in London with representatives of countries experiencing conflict.  Countries included:  the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as several international action groups, were welcomed to discuss the issues faced in their countries, particularly by women.

It is noticeable that Yemen was not among them.

Mr Williamson said:

Conflict can have devastating effects for anyone caught in its path, but life can be particularly traumatic for women. They are subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and their calls for justice are often falling on deaf ears.

I am determined we do more to listen to those who are often not given a voice. It is only by understanding the situation faced by women and girls that we will be able to protect them. Ministry of Defence news story, 19 July 2018 [accessed 27 July]

It appears that most if not all the countries attending had UK-trained peace keepers deployed there.  The news story went on to claim:

The UK has already increased peacekeeping in Sudan and Somalia, has deployed four Military Gender and Protection Advisers to DRC and has established a UK centre of excellence to integrate guidelines on women, peace and security into its work.  It is also among the first countries to publish a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

The minister claims that he is determined to ‘do more to listen to those often not given a voice‘.  This raises the question of what happens when he is told it is your weapons which are destroying our lives.  What more does he need to be told?  There have been countless authenticated reports on the destruction our weapons (and those of USA and France) have caused in war zones like Yemen.  A Médecins sans Frontières report is another example among many.  Countless reports, evidence on the ground, news reports and footage, all graphically describe the terrible events in that country.

So the questions for Mr Williamson are – when you have read the reports and done your ‘listening’ what are you going to do?  Will you take steps to cease arming the Saudis with weapons they are using to cause such mayhem?  Will you bring home the RAF personnel who are involved in the conflict?  What in short will you do to ease the plight of women caught ‘in its path’ as you put it?  Or was this just an exercise in public relations which will have no tangible or beneficial effects on the lives of women in war zones?

Will you listen and do nothing?


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Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.


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


Executions and torture still continuing in Saudi Arabia

The number of executions in Saudi Arabia is rising and we are gravely concerned for the people on death row there. The authorities have executed 52 people this year already, and nearly 600 since 2014.

Right now, eighteen young people could be beheaded at any time for the ‘crime’ of protesting against the Saudi government.  Some were sentenced to death for attending protests when they were children.  All were brutally tortured.

The UK government continues to prioritize the sale of arms despite the manifest human rights abuses and the bombing of civilians in Yemen. 

Reprieve currently have a petition and if you have time to sign it, every little helps.


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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