Long Read UK Politics World

The Yemen Conflict: The Consequence of a Damaged Political Class

Written by Callum Williams

The Yemen conflict is a bloody civil war that has been raging for over three years. The Saudi-Coalition have perpetuated the conflict through their continuous airstrikes but the UK is complicit in this prolonged conflict through its involvement in the arms trade.

The conflict started on 19 March 2015 between two fractions, both of whom claimed to be the rightful Yemeni government. The Houthi-led ‘Supreme Revolutionary Committee’ mobilised an army in an attempt to overthrow the Hadi-led government on 21 March 2015. Four days later, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, supported by the USA and the UK, began military action using airstrikes in an attempt to reinstate the Hadi-led Government in Yemen. It is estimated by the United Nations that between 8,670 and 13,600 people have been killed since the conflict started, and it is believed that this includes at least 5,200 civilians.

The Saudi-led coalition’s actions have been widely condemned by human rights groups, including Amnesty International. Saudi Arabia has allegedly committed war crimes during the Yemen conflict and stands accused of using illegal weapons and murdering civilians in violation of international law.

In December 2017, 109 civilians were killed in just 10 days. The United Nation’s Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator condemned the airstrikes calling them ‘indiscriminate’. The United Nations also accused the Saudi Arabian coalition of “[showing a] complete disregard for human life”.

Saudi Arabia has created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen by blockading ports, thus preventing international aid efforts from reaching Yemen, leaving thousands of people without food, water or medical supplies. As a result of this action, Yemen is bordering on widespread famine which threatens the lives of over 17 million Yemeni civilians.

The Saudi-led coalition has also been accused of using illegal weapons during the Yemen civil war. Amnesty International discovered evidence that:

“the Saudi Arabia-led coalition recently fired Brazilian-manufactured rockets containing banned cluster munitions striking three residential areas and surrounding farmland in the middle of Sa’da city, injuring two civilians and causing material damage.”

Amnesty International [1]

It has been verified that Saudi Arabia has used these weapons at least three times since the start of the conflict. When cluster weapons are detonated sub-munitions are dispersed across a huge radius and since these sub-munitions have a high ‘dud’ rate, which means many of them don’t explode on impact, they are left unexploded as landmines and therefore pose an ongoing threat to civilians for months, potentially even years after they are used. The use of these weapons is prohibited under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions [2].

Throughout the Yemen conflict, the Saudi-led coalition has been allegedly involved in countless war crimes, specifically the killing of civilians, which is routinely carried out through airstrikes. In September 2018, the Saudi Arabians allegedly bombed a school bus killing 51 civilians including 40 children. The Saudi Arabians denied any wrongdoing following a statement from Bill Van Esveld, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. He accused the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UK and US, of killing civilians, saying:

“[The] Saudi-led coalition’s attack on a bus full of young boys adds to its already gruesome track record of killing civilians at weddings, funerals, hospitals, and schools in Yemen” 

Human Rights Watch – Source CNN [3]

The troubling thing is that the UK is complicit in these murders because the government supports the Saudi coalition and licenses arms sales, knowing that these arms are involved in war crimes. Human Rights Watch’s statement confirmed that the UK and US could potentially be complicit in these war crimes:

“Countries with knowledge of this record that are supplying more bombs to the Saudis will be complicit in future deadly attacks on civilians”

Human Rights Watch – Source CNN [3]

Following the school bus attack, the UN released the following statement:

“[All warring fractions in Yemen are] responsible for a violation of human rights… [war crimes] continue to be perpetrated”

United Nations Report – Source CNN [4]

The statements from the UN and HRW paint a damning picture of the UK and US, creating an image of governments ignoring the obvious facts so they can continue to profit from the loss of innocent life. Since the start of the Yemen conflict, the UK government has licensed more than £4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, according to the ‘Campaign Against Arms Trade’ [5]. However, the government claimed it monitors arms export licenses to stop them being used in war crimes. During BBC Question Time on 30 November 2017, the Conservative MP and prisons minister Sam Gyimah confirmed this, saying:

Those export licenses are very carefully policed so they’re not allowed to sell our weapons where they’re going to be used for repression or where they are going to be used directly to harm people.

Sam Gyimah – BBC Question Time 30th November 2017

It seems Gyimah and the government weren’t being entirely truthful with the British public. BAE Systems, a British company that manufactures the ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Tornado’ aircraft, is one of the biggest exporter of arms to Saudi Arabia. The UK government has confirmed that BAE Systems’ aircrafts have been used by the Saudi Arabians for combat purposes in Yemen. The UK government added that ‘precision-guided weapons’ from UK arms companies have also been used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen – the same weapons Saudi Arabia allegedly uses to murder innocent Yemeni civilians, which directly contradicts the assertion made by Gyimah. If murdering and harming civilians isn’t repression, I don’t know what is. During Question Time, Gyimah went on to say:

“We have relationships with lots of these [UK Arms Companies who export to Saudi Arabia]… UK jobs depend on these” 

Sam Gyimah – BBC Question Time 30th November 2017

His statement represents the most horrific part of the arms trade, which is the government’s position and its fundamental ideology – an ideology that cares only about money and power while ignoring morality. Gyimah’s statement shows that the government cares more about UK jobs and the government’s relationships with big corporations than human life. While the government may claim to uphold moral standards they show a complete disregard for human life. As a society, this damaging ideology is leading us on a path to moral bankruptcy.

Even with all immense suffering in Yemen, most Britons are still unaware of the UK’s complicity in the humanitarian crisis gripping Yemen, due to a systematic and deliberate whitewashing of the government involvement by the mainstream media. When the media reports on Yemen, the majority of coverage is just superficial news. They show horrific videos of starved children or bomb sites while neglecting to mention our own involvement in the conflict.

However, the media isn’t the only one censoring information about Saudi Arabian arms deals. Last July, the government refused to release a report into Saudi Arabia’s foreign funding of Islamic terrorism in Britain. The government claimed that the report was censored due to ‘national security’ reasons although it is thought that the report contains damning evidence about the government’s questionable connections to Saudi Arabians.

Whether the UK has technically violated International Law is largely irrelevant because regardless of legality we as a society have a moral obligation to do what is right and no matter what you believe or where you lie on the political spectrum, you can’t honestly say that you believe selling weapons to a brutal regime to kill civilians is moral. Our society is built around our values and our morals: they govern our laws, they form the basis of our democracy and they define who we are.

A belief that together as a planet we can ensure everyone has rights and freedoms so they can enjoy their life without fear of death, without discrimination and without prejudice, sadly this belief seems to have been transcended and taken over by a political ideology of indifference.

An ideology which cares more about power and money than innocent civilians lives.

This is exemplified in Yemen as it is in the refugee crisis, Grenfell Tower and the Windrush Scandal. All of these stem from a political class who have deviated from the values of equality, rights and freedom to an ideology where power and wealth are favoured over morality. Until this is rectified we will be a society without a moral compass and while this continues, innocent civilians will continue to be caught in the crossfire and thousands more will lose their lives.

About the author

Callum Williams

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