A recent Oxfam report has highlighted Britain’s role in widespread civilian killings in Yemen – we can’t allow these crimes to be ignored

A recent Oxfam report has highlighted Britain’s role in widespread civilian killings in Yemen. The damning report, titled Fueling Conflict: Analyzing the human impact of the war in Yemen, focuses on the period from January 2021 to February 2022 and details ‘at least 87 civilian deaths and 136 injuries using weapons solely supplied by the UK and US’ during that period. These are deeply shocking findings and considering these deaths result from 1,700 separate Saudi-led coalition airstrikes the phrase ‘at least’ demands serious attention.

The damning revelations don’t stop there, particularly regarding displacement. The report states that 39% of all Saudi-led coalition airstrikes caused civilians to flee their homes and there were about 250,000 newly displaced people over the course of 2021. Currently, around 4 million people are living in refugee camps in Yemen as a result of being displaced – that’s well over 10% of the population.

The report also details 19 attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances amidst ‘widespread destruction of infrastructure’ throughout the country. There can be absolutely no justification for such callous brutality, but shamefully consecutive Conservative governments have continually backed their Saudi allies throughout the eight year war in which such occurrences have been commonplace.

Now that Yemen has a ceasefire in place, albeit a shaky one, we cannot allow the crimes of those governments or the arms manufacturers that profit from this barbarity to be swept under the carpet. Since the Saudi-led coalition began intervening in Yemen, the UK has licensed over £7.9 billion in arms to the Kingdom, which is also considered one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights. This cosy relationship demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of Britain’s foreign policy – something which is also pointed out by the author of Oxfam’s report, Martin Butcher:

“The UK position on civilian harm and violations of IHL [International Humanitarian Law] in Yemen by the SLC [Saudi-led Coalition] and continued licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is inconsistent with its position on the same situation in Ukraine. The government has recognized that civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure by Russia in Ukraine are in many cases in serious violation of IHL. It has, accordingly, sanctioned Russian officials and military personnel, as well as Iranian arms companies supplying missiles to Russia. Yet, it continues to defend arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, in a clear demonstration of double standards and politicisation of the law for reasons of national interest. This impunity for violations undermines any further UK efforts to uphold internal norms in other contexts.”

Evidently the British government refuses to recognise its hypocrisy or learn any lessons from its role in the war on Yemen. In Ukraine, where the war continues to intensify, it continues to fuel a raging conflict by sending extraordinary amounts of military hardware to a war zone whilst making no attempt to bring an end to the fighting.

The standard response from the Department for International Trade to Oxfam’s report in which it said “we take our export control responsibilities seriously and operate one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world” goes against all the evidence and hence reeks of a callous disregard for human life. Make no mistake this is the case in Ukraine, as well as Yemen.

Since April, when the ceasefire in Yemen began, conflict-attributable child fatalities have fallen by 34% and displacement has been roughly cut in half, according to Save the Children. These statistics offer some hope that the lives of Yemenis can continue to improve with the cessation of the war and foreign intervention. It is no miracle that a pause on the ‘more than four daily armed attacks on civilians’ that the Saudi-led Coalition was carrying out during the 14 months the report analysed have brought about an upturn in humanitarian conditions. Nevertheless, it is an utter disgrace that these attacks weren’t brought to an end sooner and their accomplices in the British government refuse to hold them to account.

The bottom line is we can’t let these barbaric crimes be ignored or forgotten. Lessons must be learnt from the fuelling of yet another war with such catastrophic humanitarian consequences – not least in Ukraine.

12 Jan 2023 by Mayer Wakefield

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