War Crimes in Yemen are Regular Not ‘Isolated’ – Stop Saudi Arms Sales
The decision of the UK Government to openly resume massive armaments sales to the Saudi Arabia regime is shameful, shabby, and scandalous.
Shameful because the world and its dog knows these weapons are being used to indiscriminately massacre civilians in Yemen and destroy essential infrastructure like hospitals, schools, and food factories in direct violation of international humanitarian law. Literally thousands of civilians have been incinerated by the bombs, missiles and other weaponry supplied to the Saudi regime primarily by the USA and UK despite the illegal, inhumane, and immoral use these weapons have been used for. More than 20,000 civilians have been killed or injured while 16 million are now condemned to hunger in the war-ravaged country.
Shabby because the resumption notification via a Parliamentary Written statement on the 7th of July means the Government avoids the embarrassing scrutiny of its decisions in relation to these sales in the Supreme Court hearing which was planned following the defeat of the government on June 20th last year when it’s failure to properly evaluate if the weapons being sold to Saudi were indeed being used to commit atrocities in Yemen resulted in them being declared illegal. The Government sought to appeal that decision of the Court and permission to appeal was granted on 9th July last year. That appeal hearing would have subjected government decision making in relation to arms sales licences amounting to more than £5.3 billion since the beginning of the war in Yemen in 2015 to rigorous scrutiny. Such scrutiny is not applied to Parliamentary Written Statements.
Scandalous because the Government that pontificates daily about law and order and the importance of the rule of law principle across the world has deployed language akin to lines from Alice and Wonderland to justify its decision to resume granting arms sales licences. When originally compelled to defend granting arms export licences to companies for the sale of military hardware to Saudi Arabia the government argued it was not possible to evaluate rigorously potential international human rights law violations but three judges at the High Court of Appeal ruled such a defence untenable last June.
Saudi Arms Sales Ruled Illegal Last June
They held that ministers had “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.
Only a month before, it emerged that while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had recommended that the UK allow Saudi Arabia to buy bomb parts expected to be deployed in Yemen in 2016, days after an airstrike on a potato factory had killed 14 people.
The 2011 popular uprising that erupted in Yemen forced then President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power after 33 years of rule, against accusations of corruption and failed governance, and the backdrop of an unresolved, long-standing conflict with the Huthis, an armed group based in the north of the country, whose members follow Zaidism, an off-shoot of Shi’a Islam. Saudi Arabia led a coalition of forces in an invasion and massive bombardment of the country against the Huthis in 2015 with a vast array of the most advanced and deadly weaponry on the planet purchased at great cost to the Saudis but generating huge profits for the armaments companies. BAE Systems alone is reported to have sold an incredible £15 billion worth of weaponry since the conflict began over five years ago.
US and UK Biggest Suppliers of Weapons to Saudi Arabia
Even establishment newspapers like the New York Times have been compelled to express doubts and disdain over the widely documented atrocities committed in Yemen with US supplied bombs. Atrocities which led to a temporary ban an armaments sale to Saudi Arabia in 2017. A ban that was short lived and rapidly overturned by the arms company friendly Trump administration:
“Year after year, the bombs fell – on wedding tents, funeral halls, fishing boats and a school bus, killing thousands of civilians and helping turn Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Weapons supplied by American companies, approved by American officials, allowed Saudi Arabia to pursue the reckless campaign.”
“This White House has been more open to defence industry executives than any other in living memory,” said Loren B. Thompson, a long-time analyst who consults for major arms manufacturers.
No foreign entanglement has revealed the trade-offs of this policy more than the war in Yemen. There, Mr. Trump’s embrace of arms sales has helped prolong a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people in the Arab world’s poorest nation, further destabilizing an already volatile region, according to a review of thousands of pages of records and interviews with more than 50 people with knowledge of the policy or who participated in the decision-making”.
Last Week’s Written Statement on Saudi Arms Sales was Warped
Today the Minister now in charge of arms exports licences could not even be bothered to turn up in Parliament to answer emergency questions on her warped Written Statement of last week. Liz Truss is the Secretary of State for International Trade and her statement contained the incredulous claim that:
“It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of International Humanitarian Law occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents”.
“Curiouser and curiouser” is what Alice in Wonderland said about the strange circumstances she found herself in and when a Minister and apparently educated woman refers to scores of incidents involving civilian weddings being bombed, potato factories being bombed, crowded markets being bombed, hospitals being bombed, water and sewage treatment plants being bombed as “isolated incidents” because they occurred at “different times” and “different circumstances” you know the intelligence of ordinary folk is being poked with an enormous and prickly stick.
Of course, the atrocities involving the slaughter of innocent men, women and children occurred at “different times” and involved “different circumstances” that is the very essence of indiscriminate war crimes, flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.
Isolated in Time but Certainly Not in Practice
These incidents are only “isolated” by time not by practice. To resume these sales of lethal bombs, guns, grenades, and aircraft is to be wilfully complicit in the slaughter of the innocents which is taking place in Yemen today causing the destruction of water supplies, food production, hospitals, homes and schools. It is not without reason that Yemen is without doubt the biggest and most deadly humanitarian disaster on our planet today.
Sent to defend the stinking statement and decision in place of Minister Liz Struss today was Tory MP Greg Hands. He told the House that, in line with the Court of Appeal’s request, the Secretary of State had “retaken the licensing decisions”.
Decisions which last year could not be evaluated for international law violations were now lo and behold able to be evaluated and taken again in apparent compliance with the law court decision of last June. It is a deplorable decision which must be subjected to scrutiny. The Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, Emily Thornberry, spoke for many when she questioned the government’s enthusiasm for Saudi arms sales today in Parliament.
Ms Thornberry said she welcomed the Secretary of State’s assessment of possible violations of international law, but asked why, over the past five years, ministers had said an assessment “was impossible for Britain to make” and “could only be made by Saudi Arabia”. She asked if those ministers were “simply wrong”.
What Does the Word “Isolated” Mean?
She also asked how many “isolated incidents” were identified, ”so that we can understand how they define the word “isolated'”. She asked why the Government reported finding “no patterns of civilian infrastructure being targeted”, when for 17 months Saudi planes “systematically destroyed” Yemen’s means of food production.
She stated that “indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas is in itself a war crime”, and asked therefore how the Government could say that the Saudis did not mean to break international law “because their violations ‘occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons'”, when that is the “very definition” of ‘indiscriminate’.
Support CAAT to Enable Further Court Action
This whole issue and the government’s reprehensible position will not be subjected to the proper exposure and examination it deserves given the general disinterest from the mainstream media in upsetting the powerful armaments companies of the UK and US but the fantastic Campaign Against The Armaments Trade (CAAT) has issued a statement today stating their intention to consider further legal action over this matter. I would urge them to do so and hope thousands of us will donate to their coffers to assist such and essential and worthwhile pursuit of justice in the courts. Andrew Smith of CAAT spoke truth to power today when he said:
“These arms sales are illegal, immoral and deadly. The decision to resume them can only prolong the war and increase the bloodshed. The bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK.
The government says that possible breaches of international law are ‘isolated incidents’, but there have been hundreds of them. These are not statistics, they are people’s lives. Saudi forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes. They have turned gatherings into massacres and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on Yemen. We are considering all legal options to challenge this appalling decision”.