The Speaker
Sunday, 19 May 2024 – 19:09

United with the Saudis: Britain’s secret war in Yemen

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Approximately 6,782 killed; 10,768 wounded and 50,000 civilians starved by war since 2015. Torn in two, Yemen is the epitome of a humanitarian disaster.

Splintered between Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government and the Houthi resistance movement, Yemen is a country fighting for its life. With presidential transition destabilising the country in 2014, Houthi rebels were able to seize the capital Sana’a, forcing the Prime Minister and later the President to resign. Fuelling the fire, in 2015 a Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes against the Houthi rebels, covertly supported by Saudi’s regional rival, Shia Iran. 

Caught up within this proxy war, civilians have paid the price. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi-led coalition has bombed hospitals, weddings and even camps for displaced people. In August, a bomb was dropped on a Yemeni school bus, killing 40 boys aged from six to 11, and wounding 56 other children. According to The Guardian, the weapon used was a 227kg laser-guided bomb, one of the warheads sold to the Saudis as part of weapons exports. Coalition warplanes even struck Yemen’s Hodeidah port, the country’s major aid pipeline, through which 70% of Yemeni food supplies, fuel and aid arrive. Inflamed by the Saudi’s sea, air and land blockade, the UN reports that 10 million Yemeni’s are just “one step away from famine”. The situation is barbaric. 

British Backing

But, apparently not barbaric enough. The brutal Saudi Arabia-led coalition has garnered unfathomable military support, and Britain is just one of the gracious benefactors behind it all. 

Since 2015, the UK has been gasoline for the Yemeni fire, selling approximately £5.7 billion worth of arms to the Saudi military campaign. A comprehensive report by Arron Merat, published by The Guardian in 2019, revealed that Britain not only supplies ammunition but vital information, expertise and personnel for the Saudis. “Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs”, the report outlines, “dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors”. According to Merat, 6,300 British contractors are stationed in operating bases in Saudi Arabia, where they train Saudi pilots and conduct maintenance on planes having flown to their prey in Yemen. The British load the planes with bombs, and the British set their fuses for intended targets. 

Equipped by the US, UK and France, Saudi Arabia has been accused of two-thirds of the 11,700 deaths in Yemen, according to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Some new estimates put the total fatalities figure since 2015, at almost 100,000.


Ruled Unlawful

In the emergence of these new figures, in June British arms sales were finally ruled illegal. Breaching humanitarian law, the court of appeal claimed that UK ministers had ignored the use of arms in Yemeni airstrikes. The decree revealed that foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, fellow leadership candidate Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox had illegally signed Saudi arms exports, despite their usage against civilians. That’s two of our future candidates for Prime Minister.

The ruling marked a watershed moment for the arms trade. But this does not mean British involvement is over. Fully aware of their atrocities, UK ministers have applied to appeal the verdict and continue involvement in the Saudi’s murderous campaign. A spokesperson for Theresa May told the BBC that the government was “disappointed” with the judgement; disappointed not to partake in the massacre of innocent lives. 

May’s disagreement has rendered any British commitment to values of equality, liberty, democracy and social justice vacuous. A moral democracy cannot fund one of the world’s biggest human rights violators.

Following Norway, Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands, the UK must take action, bringing arms sales to a halt and launching a public inquiry into the arms trade system.

With 75% of the Yemeni population in need of humanitarian assistance, we cannot let this burning injustice continue. And we certainly cannot remain one of the arsonists behind it. 

Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

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