Britain and the US supplied the Saudi-led coalition with weaponry used in hundreds of assaults on Yemeni civilians between January 2021 and February 2022.
Martin Butcher, Oxfam’s Policy Advisor on Arms and Conflict, claimed the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for at least 87 civilian deaths and 136 injuries, 19 strikes on healthcare facilities.“Our study demonstrates a pattern of violence against civilians, and all sides in this conflict have not done enough to protect civilian life, which they are supposed to do under International Humanitarian Law.”
“Without a ready supply of guns, these attacks would not have been as intense,” he said. That’s why the UK government and others must immediately stop military sales that feed Yemen’s war.”
The Oxfam research came days before the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) filed a lawsuit to stop the British government’s multi-billion pound arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for use in the Yemen war.
The UK’s 2014 Arms Trade Treaty rules restrict arms sales if there is a “clear risk” that a weapon “could” be used in a severe breach of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The government has promoted and protected weapons sales despite strong evidence that the coalition has frequently violated IHL. Since the conflict in Yemen began in April 2015, the UK has given armaments worth over £23 billion to Saudi Arabia, according to CAAT.
British special troops are reported to have participated in the battle, and the British military maintains Saudi jets that target Yemen and provide information assistance for the coalition.
The UK has rejected UN and other international efforts to halt military sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It exports more than half of its defence goods to the Middle East and is the second largest defence exporter after the US.
Britain’s defence industry, one of its few remaining manufacturing sectors, relies on the venal Saudi monarchy, which assassinates, tortures, imprisons, and beheads dissidents. They protect Britain’s geostrategic interests in the energy-rich area and support the Washington-led campaign to isolate Iran and its regional allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen as part of broader preparations for conflict with Russia and China, with whom Tehran has close links.
The ruthless House of Saud rules the Arabian Peninsula under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. It is hiding information indicating Riyadh or its sponsors are committing war crimes and avoiding charges that the UK is violating its own arms supply laws.
Following CAAT’s legal action, the Court of Appeal found the Government’s export licence decision-making procedure “irrational” and “unlawful” in June 2019. It prompted the government to cease issuing export licences for weapons that could be used in the Yemen war awaiting an assessment of how these weapons had been utilised and to guarantee that future arms sales followed the government’s guidelines.
However, Trade Secretary Liz Truss restarted arms sales in July 2020, stating IHL violations were “isolated events.” Since then, the British government has sanctioned at least £2.2 billion more weapons sales to the coalition and cut its 2021-22 funding to Yemen by more than half.
In its newest High Court appeal, CAAT contests the government’s allegation that coalition forces committed just a “limited number” of IHL violations that did not create a “pattern.” Even if offences were “isolated,” they could lead to more.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been fighting rebels in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, for eight years. Rights groups and charities have called it almost genocide. At the end of 2021, the UN projected that 377,000 Yemenis had died from the war, 150,000 directly and the remainder from “a lack of food or access to healthcare, as well as from the loss of basic infrastructure to offer these services.”
4.3 million people have been displaced by terrible social and economic conditions, including a 2016 cholera outbreak and the pandemic. Only 50% of Yemen’s public health institutions are operational, with most barely working owing to infrastructure damage and a lack of healthcare professionals. Last year’s high seasonal rain, windstorms, landslides, and flooding killed and injured around 210,000 people.
17.3 million Yemeni are hungry, including over two million children with acute malnutrition.
Despite a six-month ceasefire and a considerable decline in fatalities, at least 643 Yemeni civilians were killed in 2022, including at least 102 children and 27 women, according to data from the Yemen-based Eye for Humanity Centre for Rights and Development. The devastation of 14,300 dwellings, 12 hospitals, 64 schools, and 22 power stations has made matters worse.
Middle East Eye’s Freedom of Information requests for documents on British weaponry sales to Riyadh between October 1 and 15 2016 have been denied by the British government. UN monitors ruled that a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a Sanaa burial hall on October 8, 2016, violated international humanitarian law. After lengthy delays, it denied the requests, first citing exclusions for policy-making choices and judgements harmful to the UK’s foreign and commercial interests and then arguing it would be too expensive to collect the records.
The British public’s deep antagonism to the coalition’s arming is shown by the government’s refusal to release the information.
Britain backs some of the world’s most brutal governments. Its continuous supply of armaments to the Saudi-led war on Yemen exposes its international claims to support human rights and democracy, including the flood of deceit justifying NATO’s military involvement against Russia in Ukraine.
The imperialist powers in London and Washington and their regional proxies view severe violations of IHL and the resulting humanitarian disaster in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria as collateral damage in the war for dominance over the energy-rich Middle East. This harsh warning of the consequences of the ever-expanding war in Ukraine emphasizes the need of students and young people fighting to establish an international anti-war movement.