THE BLOG

Britain Must Act To Prevent A Humanitarian Disaster In Yemen

Whatever the British Government’s good intentions towards Saudi Arabia, the crisis keeps getting worse

23/11/2017 16:10 GMT

Saudi Arabia must end the blockade of Yemen before it makes an already brutal humanitarian disaster and military campaign much worse. While Labour unequivocally condemns the missile strike carried out by the Houthi rebels, it is unacceptable that the Saudi-led coalition respond by punishing children and other innocent civilians with the tightening of the blockade. Although the Saudis have recently allowed UN humanitarian aid into the country, commercial is aid is still being blocked which makes up a significant amount of vital necessities for the people of Yemen. While we should all welcome the decision to allow UN aircraft into Yemen’s largest airport in Sanaa, it should be welcomed with caution as there is still no guarantee that the Saudi-led coalition will allow humanitarian missions in Yemen to return to pre-blockade levels.

Time after time, whatever the British Government’s good intentions towards Saudi Arabia, the humanitarian crisis keeps getting worse and children are starving to death every single day. More good intentions on the part of the Government will simply not cut it this time. Instead, we need urgent action. A Joint Statement from the World Health Programme, World Food Programme and UNICEF says the Saudis “are making an already catastrophic situation far worse, with supplies the Saudis are blocking essential to staving off disease and starvation”.

Make no mistake, without the blockade being fully withdrawn, the restrictions could lead to the largest famine in decades, with around 7 million people estimated by the UN to rely on food aid and a further 4 million relying on fuel needed for pumping clean water. Without the supplies, thousands will die and 150,000 children will starve to death over the next few months. This is a clear violation of humanitarian principles and international law, to which Britain must act swiftly to immediately withdraw any support to the Saudis if they refuse to end the blockade. It is now a matter of international law, alongside a breach of Britain’s manual on the law of armed conflict, which states “the establishment of a blockade is prohibited if the damage to the civilian population is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage”.

Saudi Arabia is punishing innocent people in Yemen, with no concrete evidence of missile smuggling into the country. The leaked UN Panel of Experts on Yemen report has confirmed that there is no evidence of the alleged smuggling of weapons to the Houthis, but the Government continues to prop up the Saudis with British arms. This is a clear attempt by the Saudi-led coalition to justify obstructing the delivery of humanitarian commodities to Yemen. Therefore, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office team is calling for the complete suspension of sales of British arms that are being used to enforce the blockade. If the Government cannot show that Britain has considerable, positive influence over the Saudis after championing Crown Prince Salman, then it needs to change its approach.