Continued fighting in Yemen can only make imminent coronavirus threat worse: UK arms sales and support for the war must end

Widespread reports of attacks, including by Saudi forces, despite reports of ceasefire agreement

  • Widespread reports of attacks, including by Saudi forces, despite reports of ceasefire agreement
  • UK has licensed over £5.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it began bombing Yemen in March 2015
  • WHO has warned of imminent coronavirus threat to Yemen’s “almost collapsed” healthcare system

Yesterday saw air strikes in Yemen, this followed a day that includes violent attacks on both sides of the ongoing war. The attacks came only five days after reports that a ceasefire had been agreed to allow Yemen’s healthcare system to respond to the imminent threat of coronavirus.

Over recent weeks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has increased distribution of protective gear and test equipment to the country in anticipation of an “explosion” of coronavirus cases. At present there are no cases in Yemen, but it has reached Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE and other countries in the region.

This month, Oxfam warned of the possibility of another outbreak of cholera. Since the war began five years ago there have already been 2.3 million suspected cases.

Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni-based human rights monitoring group, warns that the country’s healthcare system has “almost collapsed” following five years of war, and a Saudi-led bombardment which has destroyed hospitals, aid facilities and other vital healthcare infrastructure. The destruction has left the system operating at 50 percent of its capacity at a time when 24 million people need aid.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. So far, the Government has not published a timeline for this process.

In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government has admitted multiple breaches of the ban of new licences.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said:

If coronavirus spreads in Yemen then it will put an even greater strain on a healthcare system that is being stretched to breaking point. Yemen is already enduring the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and this stands to make it even worse. Hospitals and other medical services have been destroyed in the conflict, and millions of people are in need of aid.

It is vital that this devastating war is brought to an end. That is why the UK, and other arms dealing governments, must finally stop arming and supporting this brutal bombardment and end the uncritical political and military support that they have offered to the Saudi regime. Yemen has already seen five years of war, and thousands of people have been killed. There must be a ceasefire now, but the chances of that happening will be even more remote as long as the arms keep flowing.

For further information please contact Andrew at media(at)caat·org·uk or call 020 7281 0297.

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