THE BLOG

Yemen Is On The Verge Of The World's Largest Famine - Time For May To Stop Fuelling The War

16/11/2017 16:27 GMT | Updated 16/11/2017 16:39 GMT
Naif Rahma / Reuters

This week, the UN warned that after three years of bombing and conflict Yemen is on the verge of the 'largest famine the world has seen in decades.' Millions of lives are under threat, but the Saudi-led bombing has intensified, and those that are providing arms and support have continued to look the other way while terrible atrocities and abuses have taken place

The crisis has been exacerbated by the ongoing Saudi-led blockade, which has prevented food and lifesaving medicine from reaching those that need it. Less than 45% of the country's medical facilities are operational, and UNICEF has warned that, unless the ports are re-opened, Yemen will run out of fuel and vaccines by the end of the year.

In September, the UN finally agreed to set up an independent investigation into human rights abuses that have taken place. The inquiry is definitely to be welcomed, but it will do almost nothing to halt the conflict on the ground, or to stop the bombs that are being dropped from the sky.

Many of those bombs are being made here in the UK. Since the intervention began, the UK government has licensed £4.6 billion worth of fighter jets, bombs and missiles. It is beyond question that these have been used in attacks on civilian infrastructure, with thorough and authoritative reports from Human Rights Watch, Sky News and Amnesty International explicitly linking UK arms to attacks on civilian sites.

That is why UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia were the subject of a High Court review earlier this year, following a landmark case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Our lawyers argued that the arms sales were illegal under UK arms export law, which says that if there is any 'clear risk' that arms 'might' be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) then a sale should not go ahead. The case included reports and evidence from the UN, as well as some of the most respected NGOs in the world, explicitly accusing Saudi forces of carrying out very serious breaches of IHL.

Unfortunately, and after four months of deliberation, during which the bombardment continued unabated, the judges sided with the government.

The verdict was very disappointing, and if it is upheld it will be seen as a green light for the UK to continue to arm and support human rights abusers. It would send the message that a dictatorship with an appalling human rights record could inflict one of the worst human rights catastrophes in the world on the poorest country in the world and the UK would still continue to sell it military aircraft and bombs.

Almost as soon as the verdict was declared, we announced that we would appeal it. We are determined not to let it rest, and to keep pushing until we get a result that favours the rights and lives of people in Yemen over arms companies' profits.

We have no doubt that public opinion is on our side. Poll after poll has shown a widespread and growing opposition to the UK's uncritical political and military support for Saudi forces. The most recent poll, carried out by Opinium LLP in September, found that almost 70% of UK adults oppose the arms sales, with only 12% in support.

However, further action could be very expensive. We have already been ordered to pay £40,000 in court fees for the original case, and if our appeal is granted it could considerably increase that cost. With that in mind, we have launched a crowdfunder, which has already seen over 600 people donating to support our case.

The timing could not be more urgent. Over the last two weeks we have seen purges in Riyadh and a further escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Lebanon threatening to be the next battleground in the wider geopolitical conflict. The potential consequences of such a war do not bear thinking about.

After almost 1000 days of bombardment and pain, a peaceful solution in Yemen is needed more than ever. When governments fail to challenge abuses and atrocities then it forces activists and civil society to take action. Even if it is successful, our appeal will not end the ongoing conflict, but it would end the UK's role in it and set a vital and historic international precedent.

The atrocities have not just been ignored by Whitehall and Downing Street, they have been directly fuelled by them. Theresa May and her colleagues have not been spectators to the bombardment, they have been active participants. It's time for them to end their complicity.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk. You can donate to the crowdfunder to support CAAT's appeal against arms exports to Saudi Arabia here.