British Arms In Yemen: Lack Of Accountability Leads To The Deaths Of Children


Angus Wilson

A month ago, a grim milestone was reached, 5 years of conflict in Yemen, fueled by a Saudi Arabian-led coalition. The war has devastated Yemen, which “has topped an annual watchlist of countries most likely to face humanitarian catastrophe in 2020, for the second year running…about 80% of the population…will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year” the Guardian reports. This brutal conflict is fueled by British arms, those that produce these weapons of war profit off the deaths of children.

The war, to attempt to briefly summarize a complex situation, is generally over political divisions of who ought to lead Yemen. It reflects the regional struggle for dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to the BBC, the Houthi movement are essentially fighting against the established and unpopular government. That government was backed by the Saudi coalition. As the BBC explains; “Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at defeating the Houthis, ending Iranian influence in Yemen and restoring Mr. Hadi’s government.” Now much of the country’s western areas are a conflict zone, and the two forces are in a stalemate.

The politicians that allowed these deals to get through have been shown to have failed to undertake the due diligence necessary. The Guardian reported “Three judges said…Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox and other key ministers had illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians.” The consequences of this neglect are tragic and severe, these men callously cost lives. They have blood on their hands. As the Guardian reports; “[this] Saudi-led coalition is supplied by the west [is] accused of being responsible for about two-thirds of the 11,700 (civilians) killed…” through their indiscriminate bombing campaign.

So, while this court decision has halted the sale of some arms, it has not punished those responsible. Nor has it halted the sale. British arms continue to kill civilians. The Saudis continue to lead a brutal campaign that readily targets civilians. The Saudi coalition has “targeted civilians … in a widespread and systematic manner,” according to the UN. But even halting the sales comes too late. These weapon systems will be used for years to come. The damage is done, and somebody ought to be held accountable. Yet Boris Johnson, a key member in these blood-soaked transactions, is now sitting in the highest post attainable in Britain. The appropriate outrage is simply missing here. People appear to not care or not know what has occurred.

As of 2016, Britain was the worlds 2nd biggest arm dealer. The Independent writes that “[t]he UK is one of the world’s most successful defence exporters.” It also reports further that as of 2016, “£7.9bn worth of arms were sold to countries on the “human rights priority countries” list, which is maintained by the Foreign Office…” (FCO) “…and includes countries judged by the FCO to have “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations.” Despite these claims, the Independent reports that a Government spokesperson said its “export licensing requires us to consider how the equipment will be used by the end-user and risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment. We consider this approach to be sufficiently tough.” This is a shocking claim, the statement made in 2016 has since been proven by the court case to be utterly untrue. The British government lied to the world and has faced no consequences for it. The ministers responsible for letting arms flood the Middle East have faced no consequences and no public accountability.

It is suspected that more than 15 billion pounds worth of arms were sold to the Saudis, which were sold illegally. The scale of the sales are staggering. Britain was not selling a few jeeps or boots to the Saudi’s. These sales are instrumental to Saudi military operations; “Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors” the Guardian reports.  The level of involvement is astounding when you look at the dire lack of accountability. The British public should be outraged. The only real difference between the RAF bombing these Yemeni Civilians and the Saudi Arabian forces is the fact that the pilots are Saudi Nationals, and the targets are selected by the Saudis. Everything else is British, from the support staff, to the trainers, to the equipment. How can the UK wash its hands of this? Without its involvement, civilians would not be bombed. As the Guardian notes; “A BAE employee recently put it more plainly to Channel 4’s Dispatches: “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

Yet nothing of any real effect has happened. This year a Saudi arms ship docked and collected equipment sold under vague ‘open licenses’ where there is little accountability. All the figures quoted in this article exclude arms sold under open licenses, we have no idea of the full extent of the sales. But we do know the sales contained serious weaponry. In 2018, the Observer reported that for the previous five years, the UK had been selling missiles and bombs to the Saudis under the open license system. The Middle Eastern Eye elaborates, explaining that “Saudi Arabia is by far the larger recipient of arms under the opaque open licensing system.” It is plain the court ruling have been largely insufficient at stopping the immoral sale of arms. The British government continue to flout thier own regulations and violate the spirit of laws in the pursuit of profit. The courts in truth have little power to stop parliament, owing to parliamentary sovereignty. What is needed is democratic accountability. The British people ought to be outraged that they are selling weapons that kill children. They are complicit in the crimes of the Government as silent bystanders. Only democratic accountability and pressure on the politicians responsible will effect change.

What is needed now is for the people of Britain to make it plain that this behaviour will not be tolerated by contacting local Members of Parliament, and using their vote to signal that they do not support war crimes. Any international credibility the UK has is tarnished by their cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia and the stark fact that the UK’s leading ministers so clearly value profit over life. But people do have the power to effect change. As reported by the Guardian, a Saudi Arabian arms ship was turned away from Belgium this year due to protests. Such action in the UK could literally save lives and put an end to this terrible conflict.

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