. The UK's arming of Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen is immoral. It should be made illegal too. | Ceasefire Magazine

The UK’s arming of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is immoral. It should be made illegal too. Politics

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a direct result of a war in which the UK is a key supplier of arms and military support. This immoral complicity must end, argues Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, July 28, 2017 15:36 - 0 Comments


A child receives treatment at the Sab’een Hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, 12 May 2017. (Source: UNICEF/UN065873/Alzekri)

This September, military reps from a range of human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships will descend on London for Defence & Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI), one of the biggest arms fairs in the world.

While there, they will be welcomed by government ministers, greeted by deferential civil servants and glad-handed by enthusiastic arms company reps that are looking to sell as many weapons as they can.

The main business will all take place behind security fences and rows of security guards, where buyers will be free to browse tanks, guns, warships, fighter jets and almost any other weapons they could conceivably want. There will be guides to chaperone them between exhibits, and UK soldiers on hand to demonstrate how it works.

Among those that are almost certain to attend is the Saudi Arabian military, which, despite its appalling human rights record, is by far the largest buyer of UK arms. In the last two years alone, the UK has licensed over £3.5 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including fighter jets and bombs.

These arms haven’t just offered political and military support for the regime, they have also played a central role in its terrible two year long bombardment of Yemen. As I write this, many of the same  model of BAE Typhoon fighter jets that will be on display at DSEI are flying over Yemen and dropping the same Paveway IV bombs that Raytheon will be promoting.

These arms sales have been subject to a landmark legal action, with the High Court ruling in the government’s favour last earlier this month. The disappointing verdict followed a high-profile legal action brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade. We are currently pursuing an appeal against it. Our case argued that arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are not just immoral, they are also illegal.

UK arms export criteria are very clear in saying that an arms export should not go ahead if there is a ‘clear risk’ that weapons ‘might’ be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Not only does the Saudi military have one of the worst human rights records in the world, it has also been widely accused of very serious and severe breaches of IHL.

To cite just one example, a UN Expert Panel report, leaked to the Guardian last January, accused Saudi forces of “widespread and systematic” abuses of IHL, including air strikes against civilian targets. They aren’t the only ones to do so, similar accusations have been made by the European Parliament, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and two House of Commons committees.

If the judgement stands, then it will be viewed by the government as a green light to continue pushing arms exports to some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world. It will be regarded not just as a vote of confidence in the system that has allowed these sales, but also in those that are buying them.

Last week’s verdict will have been celebrated in the palaces of Riyadh, but also in the offices of BAE Systems, Raytheon and all of the other companies that have willingly armed and profited from the destruction.

The consequences for the people of Yemen have been devastating. For over two years now they have been living amidst a terrible civil war. Figures from the UN show that 75 people are being killed every day as a direct result of the conflict, the majority by Saudi forces. However, even more deadly is the humanitarian catastrophe that has been created by the breakdown of vital and lifesaving infrastructure.

According to the World Health Organisation, the last three months have seen over 360,000 suspected cholera cases, with over 1800 people killed by the deadly disease. This comes on top of a horrifying report released by UNICEF last December – which found that a child in Yemen is dying every ten minutes from preventable causes. The collapse of the health system has meant that medicine is unable to reach those in need.

The tragedy and destruction on the ground has done little to reign in the bombing. As I write, news is still coming through of 20 more civilians who were killed while trying to escape to safety. These terrible deaths have become all too common in a bombardment that has seen schools, hospitals, homes and even funerals turned into the sites of massacres.

There is no telling how long it will go on for. In military terms it has become a stalemate, with little chance of either side ‘winning.’ Saudi forces are unlikely to end the bombing off their own accord though. On the contrary, Mohammed bin Salman, who has overseen the deadly intervention, has recently been made the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. It is likely he will become King in the near future.

So where does this leave campaigners in the UK? First of all, the legal challenge must continue, we cannot accept a verdict which allows for the government to continue arming and supporting a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, which has a terrible humanitarian record and has shown a blatant disregard for IHL. It would set a dangerous and wholly negative legal precedent.

But the arms trade isn’t just a legal issue, it is also a moral one. The recent election saw all opposition parties with MPs, except the DUP, standing on manifestos that specifically opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Campaigners need to do all they can to work with these MPs and make sure they put pressure on the government to end its toxic relationship with the regime.

However, parliamentary pressure is only one aspect of the campaign. We also need to make sure we work to hinder and stop the arms trade wherever possible. The next big opportunity for that will be when DSEI comes to London. Campaigners are planning a full week of action in the days preceding the event. We want to stop the setup and end the arms fair for good.

As long as the war continues, the situation will only get worse for the people of Yemen. Governments like in that the UK have played a complicit role in the destruction. If they are to play any kind of positive role, then they must finally end the arms sales, make sure aid is reaching those in need, and do all they can to bring about a peaceful solution.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @CAATuk

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