Chilling Silence: the British Government and the War in Yemen

Chilling Silence: the British Government and the War in Yemen

‘The Forgotten War’ has been the title given to the ongoing devastation and bloodshed underway in its third year in Yemen. The chilling silence that has consumed much of the British government regarding the conflict can be evidence in a YouGov poll in 2017 by The Independent which found that less than half of people in the UK are aware of the conflict that has killed thousands and displaced over 3 million people. The civil war is largely between two factions: Houthi rebels, allied to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and those that support Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi – both claiming legitimacy over the Yemeni government. The war has been the subject of an aggressive military intervention led by Saudi Arabia, in favour of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Gryphon explores the implications of the UK governement’s role in the state of war in Yemen and the devastating extent of its humanitarian crisis.

“It has been deemed the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis. The nature and scale of these incredible statistics emphasise the absurdity of the limited condemnation the conflict has received in the UK government”

Both sides of the conflict have committed heinous atrocities and have been responsible for the continual destruction and degradation of Yemen and its people. The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis with blocked food imports, leading to a famine that is affecting 17 million people, lack of safe drinking water, caused by the destruction of the country’s water infrastructure, and the world’s worst outbreak of cholera, with the number of suspected cases reaching nearly 1 million. It has been deemed the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis. The nature and scale of these incredible statistics emphasise the absurdity of the limited condemnation the conflict has received in the UK government.

After an advance by the Houthi’s, in response, Saudi Arabia led a now widely criticised military campaign in Yemen. Irrespective of the validity of the coalitions justifications for the involvement, the consequences have led to drastic escalation and further instability within the country. Charities, NGOs and humanitarian organisations have reported major human rights violations and in 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that they had “documented 62 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, that have killed nearly 900 civilians, and documented seven indiscriminate attacks by Houthi-Saleh forces in Aden and Taizz that killed 139 people, including at least eight children.”. In addition, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, said Saudi-led airstrikes violate international law. These factors put into question Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and, as one of the largest arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, whether they are fundamentally complicit in the current situation in Yemen.

It is evident that Britain’s foreign policy has become devoid of any moral or ethical underpinnings – supported by their continual indifference towards mounting evidence of violations of international human rights law by the Saudi-led coalition. The Campaign Against Arms Trade agreed that “UK arms and UK cooperation have been central to the devastation of Yemen.” With UK weapons sales rapidly increasing from £9m to over £1bn in just three months, following the 2015 Saudi attack on Yemen. The actions of the British government highlight the opacity of UK government foreign policy and the permissive acceptance that the war economy is a priority over human life. Some MPs have called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, but, so far, these calls have fallen on deaf ears. These actions are nothing new, many countries that have been flagged up by the Foreign Office for their human rights’ record are also major customers of British arms’ exports. However, with the government rolling out the red carpet for the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a recent visit to the UK, it lays to bear the blatant and unashamed contempt for the human condition.

“It is evident that Britain’s foreign policy has become devoid of any moral or ethical underpinnings – supported by their continual indifference towards mounting evidence of violations of international human rights law by the Saudi-led coalition. The Campaign Against Arms Trade agreed that “UK arms and UK cooperation have been central to the devastation of Yemen.”…”

Saudi’s absolute regime is well-known to be violent, reactionary, and a serial human rights’ violator, although, despite this, any lasting peaceful solution would likely need their support. However, as a 2017 YouGov/Save the Children poll found that the majority of the British public believe the UK government should halt arms sales to countries fighting in Yemen, it begs the question: if not the UK general public’s interests, Yemeni people nor that of international human rights agreements, whose interests are the UK government acting upon?

 

 

Inaya Folarin

 

[Image: Reuters/Human Rights Watch]