THE BLOG

We Need to Talk About Yemen

10/06/2016 16:22 | Updated 10 June 2016

It's been over a year since the start of the recent conflict in Yemen, and life for children and their families is increasingly unbearable.

In March last year, the Saudi-led Coalition launched a military operation in support of the Government of Yemen against Houthi opposition forces who had overthrown President Hadi. Since then, the humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated with over 80% of the country now in need of assistance and millions without access to vital healthcare, food, water and fuel.

Armed violence is a daily feature in the lives of Yemenis. According to the UN, children represent one third of civilian casualties, and on average six children have been killed and injured every day since March last year. Children also experience sexual violence, are recruited in groups and abducted. And the death toll continues to increase.

Even civilian places and infrastructure don't escape the conflict unscathed. Markets, schools and hospitals are being attacked. The conflict is leaving a painful scar across the country which will be felt for years to come.

Last week, the UN Secretary General published his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict. The report highlighted the terrible plight of children in this conflict. From January 2015 to April 2016, the UN verified 2,340 conflict-related child causalities in Yemen. Both the Saudis led coalition and the Houthis are to blame. Significantly, for the first time, the UN listed the Saudi-led Coalition for killing and injuring children and for attacks on schools and hospitals. According to UN data, 60% of child casualties and 48% of attacks on schools and hospitals in 2015 have been attributed to Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes. The Houthis, who have featured in the report's list the past several years, were also listed as well as being cited for their widespread recruitment of child soldiers.

Other armed groups who are listed for their appalling record of grave violations against children include Syrian and South Sudanese Government forces as well as Boko Harem and ISIL/Daesh. It is not illustrious company.

But in an unprecedented move on Monday night, the Secretary General temporarily removed the Saudi-led Coalition from the list after Saudi Arabia threatened to break relations with the UN. This sets a dangerous precedent that weakens the only mechanism we have for monitoring abuse against children and ensuring perpetrators are held accountable.

In Parliament this week there was a debate on human rights and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, MPs across party lines raised concerns about the Saudi-led Coalition's conduct in Yemen, and the UK's involvement through its military support and arms sales.

It is time for the Government to concede to the overwhelming amount of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law.

Similar to the Justice Secretary's act of cancelling a contract with the Saudi Arabian prison system, we need the Foreign Secretary to use his influence and take robust action to ensure Yemeni children and their families are better protected. This is why I'm calling on the Government to urgently set up a full and proper independent investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen; and to immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia until evidence can be provided that UK arms are not being used in any such violations.

Children in Yemen need our help, and we cannot let them down.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North and Shadow Foreign Office Minister

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