Around 3,500 miles from London lies the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In Yemen, as the result of an ongoing civil war, millions of people are displaced and half of all health care facilities have shut down, while 80% of its 29 million-strong population require support to survive, the UN reports.
And yet despite its distance, controversial decisions made in the UK are quite literally fuelling the conflict, according to international nonprofit Oxfam.
The UK has sold billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began, despite concerns that the weapons could be used by Saudi Arabia against innocent civilians. Throughout the conflict, the Saudi-led coalition has been repeatedly accused of killing and wounding civilians through indiscriminate bombing.
Specifically, Oxfam has said the UK has been providing bomb parts, missiles, and refueling equipment that allows planes to maintain a presence in combat zones for longer while searching for targets.
Since the conflict started, an estimated 8,759 civilians have been killed in airstrikes, according to the Yemen Data Project. In January alone, there were 125 airstrikes. Of those bombings, 10% targeted civilian sites, and 13% hit military targets, while the remainder remains a mystery.
The British government finds itself increasingly isolated in the international community in its approach to the war in Yemen.
Since Joe Biden became US President, he has suspended all weapons sales used in the war in Yemen, pronouncing that “the war in Yemen must end.” It follows an announcement from Italy in January that it would permanently stop selling missiles to Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after an 18-month suspension.
“As the US has called for an end to the conflict in Yemen, the UK is heading in the opposite direction, ramping up its support for the brutal Saudi-led war by increasing arms sales and refuelling equipment that facilitate airstrikes,” Sam Nadel, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam, told the Guardian.
“The UK claims to support peace in Yemen,” Nadel added. “It can start by immediately ending the sale of all arms that risk being used against civilians and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.”
Pleased to sign this vital letter. Saudi-led attacks on #Yemen are fuelled by weapons supplied by the UK. As US & Italy withdraw their support, our Government should finally develop a moral compass and do the same #StopArmingSaudi@CAATukhttps://t.co/q67jnMQY4Y— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 16, 2021
In June 2019, the UK’s High Court found that British arms exports to Saudi Arabia were illegal in a “historic” judgement that ruled that the UK had failed to assess whether its weapons were being used to break international law. That led to a temporary suspension, subject to a government review.
But it took just over a year for the review to conclude that despite “isolated incidents”, there was “not a clear risk” that international law would continue to be broken in the future, according to a statement in July 2020, from Liz Truss, the UK’s international trade secretary. The decision was described at the time as “morally bankrupt” by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the group that first brought the legal action forward.
Arms sales were therefore immediately resumed in July 2020. Since the month that decision was made, there have been at least 1,192 air raids in Yemen. For the vast majority of those strikes, it is not known whether the targets were civilian or military.
The United Nations has stated that approximately 233,000 people have died in the civil war in Yemen. But of that number, 131,000 have died from poverty either directly caused or exacerbated by the conflict, for example through the “ticking time-bomb” of food insecurity.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK operates one of the most comprehensive export control regimes in the world. The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and rigorously assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”