- CAAT condemns the airstrikes carried out by the US and UK in Yemen.
- At a time when the region is extremely volatile these airstrikes are a further threat to peace in Yemen and beyond.
- Instead of supporting calls for a ceasefire, this government has chosen to ignore the genocide Israel is perpetrating in Gaza in favour of escalating the conflict, causing further destabilisation in the region.
The US and the UK’s renewed round of joint air strikes against the Houthis in Yemen raises fears of a prolonged air campaign and continued escalation of violence in Yemen and the wider region. The US and UK claim the attacks were “in self-defence” to protect the “free flow of commerce“, against the Houthis who are attacking international shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthi campaign that started in mid-October has targeted vessels linked to Israel and the US. Although the Houthis claim their actions are in support of Palestinians, not all ships have been linked to Israel. The latest air raids are the eighth time the US has conducted strikes on Houthi targets since 11th January and the second time that the UK has taken part.
Last week the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the situation in Yemen: “has nothing to do with what is going on in Israel and Gaza, and we must never let anyone think that this House believes that there is a link.” This insistence that these issues are not related is farcical.
The Prime Minister’s comments are a mischaracterisation of the impact of Israel’s flagrant violations of international law in response to the horrific Hamas attack on 7th October. Calls for a ceasefire have been ignored by the UK government and opposition leadership. This selective application of international law, and the double standards applied to military allies, where it is seemingly impossible for the UK or the US to find that Israel has committed any violations of international law or war crimes, are a threat to a multilateral rules based order.
The US-UK airstrikes also highlights the West’s entitlement to transfer resources and goods through the cheapest and most convenient channels available in the world, and that they will defend this entitlement through any means necessary no matter what the consequences. Last week the Prime Minister called on the Houthis not to continue attacks that put ‘innocent lives at risk’. This lays bare the fact that our Government’s position is that some innocent lives are worth more than others, and that increased shipping costs and inflation are worth taking action over, but the deaths of more than 25,000 Palestinians are not.
This second round of joint US-UK airstrikes is the continuous escalation that was initially warned of by civil society. The UK government is supporting military action with disingenuous claims made by the Rishi Sunak that the first bombardments were intended as a ‘single, ‘limited action’ taken in the ‘hope that the Houthis will step back’ and end their attacks.
Even before this second round of joint-airstrikes, the US President Joe Biden, in an exchange with reporters, said “When you say working, are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes.” Predictably the Houthis have responded with statements saying yesterday’s airstrikes “will only increase the Yemeni people’s determination”. Today Sunak said that “no decision has been taken to embark on a sustained campaign.”
At a time when the region is extremely volatile and relationships between nations in the West and the Middle East are increasingly fractured, these airstrikes are a further threat to peace in Yemen and beyond. The President of Yemen’s UN-recognised government, Maj Gen Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, has called on the West to supply his government with equipment, training and intelligence to use against the Houthis saying ‘“Airstrikes on their own are not enough.’ This illustrates that the US-UK airstrikes were immediately taken by parties in Yemen as an opportunity to re-engage in active hostilities in the country, and a threat to the ongoing peace process. There is widespread consensus among foreign policy and Yemen experts that the US and UK have failed to learn from their past mistakes in Yemen and are falling into another cycle of bombings and airstrikes that will not deter the Houthis.
The UK’s fuelling of war in Yemen has been a dark stain on its conduct internationally. The UK has sold over £25bn of arms to the Saudi-Coalition which bombed Yemen from March 2015 to 2022, following a Houthi coup in 2014. The conflict created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, with the UN stating at the end of 2021 that 377,000 people had died as a result of the conflict, including through fighting, illness and starvation. According to the Yemen data project 8,983 civilians were killed in air strikes on civilian targets by the Saudi -led Coalition, with bomb strikes hitting hospitals, weddings, funerals and key infrastructure making them violations of international humanitarian law or war crimes.
Making these points does not absolve the Houthis of their responsibility for grave violations of human rights in Yemen, including the humanitarian crisis caused by their ongoing siege of Taiz. CAAT re-emphasises the call for an international, impartial, and independent investigative mechanism to investigate violations of all parties to the conflict. Such an investigation did exist up until 2021, when Saudi Arabia lobbied the Human Rights Council to end the mandate of the UN Group of Experts on Yemen who were conducting the investigations. This move clearly increased impunity for violations by all parties in Yemen, and if the Group of Experts was still investigating they could have provided a needed independent voice in the midst of the present UK-US campaign, and Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.
Since the Hamas attack on 7th October and Israel’s ongoing genocide and bombardment of Gaza, there has been a resounding call globally, including in the UK, for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. In addition to the desperate need to end the suffering and killing of Palestinians, calls for a ceasefire are based on an understanding that a just and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis is being made impossible by repeated cycles of violence and catastrophic bombardments.
The global calls for a ceasefire have emphasised not only that this horrific bombardment and genocide are a stain on our collective humanity, but that such indiscriminate violence is likely to contribute to an escalation in conflict across the Middle East and the world. We are now seeing such an escalation take place, including between Yemen, the US and the UK.
CAAT has campaigned for the application of the law of armed conflict, to apply to everyone, everywhere as it was intended. Through our campaigning on ending arms exports to Saudi for use in Yemen, we have repeatedly highlighted that impunity for attacks against civilians in Yemen builds impunity for attacks everywhere. The selective application of international law is contributing to a human security threat across the world, as well as an existential threat to our humanity. Regional tensions must be resolved by peaceful means rather than a new round of bombing, threats and arms sales. We strongly urge the UK government to de-escalate this crisis through peaceful means including diplomatic channels, and support Yemen’s fragile peace process. We call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.