Four Years Of War And Destruction In Yemen, And Britain Is Still Utterly Complicit

Even at this late stage, May, Hunt and their colleagues must finally do the right thing and end their support for this awful war – every day they don't will be another day of bombardment
Mohamed Al-Sayaghi / Reuters

“The situation was tragic. Body parts were everywhere. It was like the Day of Judgment.”

Fadhl Al-Musabi, a Yemeni farmer, was recounting the day that Saudi Arabian forces bombed a wedding he was attending in 2018. At least 21 people were killed that day, including the bride, with a further 97 injured.

Fadhl was speaking to Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni-based research and campaign group that has painstakingly analysed the terrible humanitarian cost of the four year long Saudi-led bombardment. His story is among those included in Mwatana’s new report Day of Judgement, one of the most authoritative investigations of the atrocities that have been inflicted on Yemen since the war began in 2015.

The situation is grave. Over 60,000 people have been killed as a result of the Saudi-led bombardment, with many more dying as a result of the humanitarian catastrophe that has ensured. The United Nations has called the crisis the worst in the world. It is civilians who are paying the price, with reports from Unicef showing that a child is dying every 10 minutes from preventable causes. This has been made far worse by the Saudi-imposed blockade, which has stopped vital medicine and aid from reaching people in need.

The scale of the crisis has only exacerbated the conflict. As one Yemeni citizen explained to Deutsche Welle: “The humanitarian situation is bad. Life is difficult for most people, and poverty is forcing a lot of people into becoming fighters.”

There have been over 18,000 air strikes on Yemen, with an estimated one third hitting civilian targets. Schools, hospitals and livelihoods have been destroyed across Yemen, with over two million people displaced.

From the start, the Saudi-led bombing has been armed and supported by some of the most powerful governments in the world, including the US and the UK. The war simply would not have been possible without that support. According to former CIA analyst Brucie Riedel, “the Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.”

Right at the outset, as the first bombs were being dropped, the then-foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, pledged to support the war “in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” It is a promise that has been stuck to rigidly, with the UK alone having licensed almost £5billion worth of fighter jets and bombs to the Saudi regime. These include the same aircraft flying over Yemen right now, and the bombs and missiles that they are dropping.

In reality the figures could be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

Since Jeremy Hunt replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, the rhetoric about aid and the need to end the humanitarian catastrophe may have improved, but the support for the war has continued. Hunt may well be as horrified by the scale of the humanitarian crisis as he says he is, but when push has come to shove he has followed the same policy of arming the Saudi military and supporting the bombardment at all costs.

Last month it was revealed that Hunt had lobbied the German government to resume arms sales to Saudi forces, following the suspension it brought in after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This remarkable intervention exposed the close-knit and compromising relationship between the upper-echelons of government and the arms companies. Even when thousands of people have been killed, Hunt’s priority was to secure more arms sales.

It’s not just Germany that has suspended arms sales. Over recent months there have been further positive changes made across Europe, with Finland, Netherlands and Denmark, announcing steps to curb arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen. These arms sales should never have been agreed in the first place, and it should not have taken a crisis on this scale to stop them.

Likewise, the United States Congress and Senate have voted to curb US support for the war in Yemen. The votes are non-binding, and will subject to a Presidential veto, but they have forced an unprecedented scrutiny on the US role in the war.

That scrutiny is happening in the UK as well. Next month, the Court of Appeal in London will consider the legality of UK arms sales to Saudi forces for use in Yemen. This follows a case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade. If the case is successful it could have a major impact on the war and put a stop to UK arms sales. However, the verdict itself could be months away, and thousands will die between now and then.

Even at this late stage, after four years of war, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and their colleagues must finally do the right thing and end their support for this awful war. Every day that they maintain their support will be another day of bombardment. It’s time for them to finally end the arms sales.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)