Seven years of war in Yemen – seven years of UK complicity

Tomorrow, Saturday 26th March, marks seven years since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s entry into the war in Yemen.

The Coalition’s bombing campaign, which has repeatedly targeted schools, hospitals, residential areas, agricultural and water facilities, and civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places, has been the leading cause of civilian casualties in the war, according to the Yemen Data Project. Up to the end of January 2022, at least 8,970 civilians have been killed and 10,226 injured in air strikes on civilian targets. Numerous reports by UN bodies and Yemeni and international NGOs have found that large numbers of these attacks were violations of international humanitarian law, and many may be war crimes. In total, the UNDP estimates that 377,000 people had died in Yemen from direct and indirect causes resulting from the war.

UK arms sales

The Saudi coalition’s bombing campaign would not be possible without arms supplies from abroad, in particular the UK and the US, who between them provide all the aircraft used for air strikes, along with bombs, missiles, and the crucial support and maintenance needed to keep the aircraft flying. Based on information from the UK government and from BAE Systems – who supplied and now support Saudi Arabia’s Tornado and Typhoon aircraft for use in the war – the total value of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war is around £23 billion.1

The UK government has continued to permit these exports in spite of the overwhelming evidence of attacks on civilians by the coalition, in violation of International Humanitarian Law, describing such violations as “isolated incidents” with no pattern. Commenting on the government’s claims, Radhya Almutawakel of Yemeni NGO Mwatana for Human Rights said at a media briefing on Thursday,

“I really want to look in the eyes of UK officials and say “seriously?”… Nothing is more proved than the pattern of air strikes by the Saudi and Emirati coalition.”

Accountability

The Yemen war faces a severe accountability gap. All parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, are guilty of numerous and severe violations of human rights and IHL. Yet none of the parties, their international backers, or the wider international community show any inclination to ensure that gross violations of human rights are investigated and prosecuted. The only international mechanism for accountability was a UN Group of Eminent Experts for Yemen established by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017, with a mandate to investigate war crimes by all parties. Unfortunately, the UNHRC voted in October not to renew the mandate of the GEE, following heavy Saudi lobbying. It is notable that, in the years following the establishment of the GEE, the rate of coalition air strikes causing civilian casualties declined significantly; but since the abolition of the group, the rate of such air strikes has surged, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Humanitarian crisis

Beyond the immediate casualties of war, the conflict has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. According to the UN and the World Food Programme, at the end of 2021, over 20 million people in Yemen needed humanitarian assistance, with 5 million on the brink of famine, while 2.3 million children under 5, and 1.2 million pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were suffering from acute malnutrition. The crisis is directly linked to the policies and actions of all parties to the conflict, in particular the Saudi-led coalition, through destruction of health facilities, food and water facilities, and critical civilian infrastructure, and the partial blockade of Houthi-controlled ports, which has greatly increased the cost of food, fuel, and medical supplies. Both the Saudi coalition and the Houthis have been accused of using starvation as a means of warfare.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is likely to be further worsened by the war in Ukraine, due to the impact on the price of wheat, of which Ukraine produces 10% of the world’s supply and half of what the World Food Programme provides to recipient countries. Despite the urgency of the crisis, a recent UN pledging conference for Yemen raised only $1.3 billion of the $4.2 billion needed, a failure which will certainly condemn more Yemenis to starvation.

Sam Perlo-Freeman of Campaign Against Arms Trade said

“The war in Yemen is not so much a forgotten war as one that is being intentionally ignored by world powers. While the UK government and its allies rightly condemn the horrific atrocities being visited on Ukraine by Russia, they are not merely standing by, but actively enabling the same atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, through their continuing arms supplies. These arms sales must stop now, and the international community, after seven years of inaction, needs to pursue serious efforts to promote a diplomatic solution to the war, end the blockade of Yemen, pursue accountability for war crimes and human rights abuses, and act urgently to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid to Yemen to allow its people to live.”

ENDS

For further information, contact Sam Perlo-Freeman, Research Coordinator (sam@caat.org.uk, Tel. 07732 908126), or Katie Fallon, Parliamentary Coordinator (katie@caat.org.uk).

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

CAAT is pursuing a Judicial Review against the government over its continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, which CAAT believes violates the government’s own export licensing criteria. CAAT has been granted permission by the courts to seek judicial review, and the hearing is likely to take place later this year. For more details see CAAT’s website.

CAAT is also part of a coalition of NGOs calling for action by the International Criminal Court to hold European governments and arms companies accountable for aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen through arms supplies to the Saudi-led coalition.

[1] See https://caat.org.uk/news/true-value-of-uk-arms-trade-to-saudi-arabia-worth-over-20-billion-since-2015/ for figures up to 2020; the latest figures include BAE sales to Saudi Arabia in 2021, and export licence data for equipment not likely to be from BAE for 2021.

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