Britain’s role in the death & injury of Yemeni civilians

14 December 2020 — Airstrikes (formerly Drone Warfare)

Above: typical of the destruction wrought by coalition air strikes

July – December 2020

After taking the UK government to court over its arms sales to the Saudis, the latest CAAT newsletter (Issue 258 Winter 2020) recalls that in July 2020 the Government said that it had made the required assessment as to “whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of IHL in the past, during the Yemen conflict” and its conclusion is that these are ‘isolated incidents’.

Liz Truss MP, secretary of state for international trade, announced that weapon sales to Saudi Arabia would resume despite concerns over the potential for further atrocities in Yemen.

Lawyers representing CAAT wrote to the UK government seeking urgent answers on this decision and began to consider further legal action.

Bill Briggs reported in August that twenty children had been killed in Yemen since the UK government resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia. There was an escalation in violence this year, with civilian casualties trebling from May to June, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Amid food shortages and a complete breakdown of the economy in Yemen, children are being massacred and war crimes have undoubtedly been committed by both sides.

In September, Sky News reported on a potential war crime in northern Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the US and Britain.

In Alex Crawford’s detailed and illustrated account of evidence given by eye-witnesses to a team visiting Yemen, several incidents were reported. In one, nine people died – six of them were children. There were no men amongst the dead or injured and only three survivors – a young mother (right) who was breastfeeding her baby son and a teenage boy.

A coalition spokesman said they were investigating whether this was an “accidental loss of civilian life” whilst targeting Houthi leaders and fighters.

Human rights investigators building up a dossier of potential war crimes have got details of at least 500 attacks by the coalition where civilians have been the victims. Amongst them are five different attacks which they say they’ve linked to the British authorities or British companies.

The September United Nations report said countries arming parties involved in the conflict could be “aiding and assisting” war crimes

The report accused parties to the conflict of “a consistent pattern of harm to civilians” and “documented patterns of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law” over the course of the war. It found that Houthi militia and support from the UK and others “may amount to ‘aiding and assisting’ internationally wrongful acts in contravention of international law.”

In October a second legal challenge was mounted by CAAT; the campaigners filed for a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Read more here.

And when G20 leaders gathered online at the end of November for their annual summit, incredibly, it was hosted by Saudi Arabia, the country that is arguably more responsible for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis than any other.

Over the past five and a half years Saudi Arabia has bombed school buses, funerals and hospitals in Yemen. As the result of this brutal war between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi militia, four out of five Yemenis now urgently need humanitarian assistance.

Bill Nighy wrote an article in the Times in November (paywall)

On the 3rd of December a UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen briefed the UN Security Council. “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land” – urged an end to impunity in a conflict with no clean hands, and the referral by the UN Security Council of the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.

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