Al-Baghdadi, Al-Assad, Al-Sisi, Netanyahu, Rouhani – these regional goliaths with their recent adventures have swallowed up the available column inches. So when Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and Amnesty International yell: “WAR CRIMES IN YEMEN”; nobody, sadly, is listening. This has to change.
As it stands, British taxpayers are fuelling a conflict in which war crimes are almost definitely being committed. Tobias Ellwood, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, told Parliament late last month that while British personnel were not on the front line, the UK was not only providing “technical support” and “exchanging information…through pre-existing arrangements” but also supplying “precision-guided weapons”.
Ellwood also told the Commons that British troops were now deployed at the air and maritime headquarters for the Saudi co-ordinated invasion.
When pressed by Labour MP Andrew Smith, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon would not reveal the number of bombs we had given the Saudis, saying it would harm relations between the two countries.
Fallon did say, somewhat unconvincingly, that Riyadh had “assured [the UK] that British-supplied munitions will be used in compliance with international humanitarian law and we continue to engage with them on these assurances.”
The issue is the Saudi-led coalition isn’t complying with international humanitarian law, at all. This has been clear for months. In April, the United Nations accused coalition warplanes of killing 40 civilians – including seven children – after bombing a bridge. By that point, there had already been around 1,500 non-combatant deaths. In the same month, Human Rights Watch acquired videos and photos suggesting the coalition were using American-manufactured cluster bombs, and more evidence has emerged since. Last week, US officials even admitted they were being used.
In May, the UN rapped Riyadh again for targeting hospitals and schools, during a brutal 24 hour barrage encompassing 130 airstrikes. The entirety of Sadaa was deemed a military target, meaning thousands had to flee their homes.
Earlier this month, another critical report appeared from Amnesty International. A Saudi spokesperson appeared on Al Jazeera desperately refuting their claims – saying that “researchers in a London office can’t make assessments of what is going on in Yemen.”
This was a blatant lie. As the report made clear, a number of Amnesty delegates had visited Yemen in June and July. The frenetic exculpations of the Saudi spin doctor are best explained by the damning nature of the researchers’ findings; deliberate targeting of civilians, with Amnesty concluding that “such attacks constitute war crimes”. A fact-finding mission by a Human Rights Watch researcher earlier this month found similar.
In spite of the above, Defence Secretary Fallon conveys to the British Parliament that Riyadh has assured “British-supplied munitions will be used in compliance with international humanitarian law.”
This is a carefully worded statement. “British-supplied” suggests that it is perfectly OK for our allies to commit war crimes, so long as they don’t use British bombs.
It is shocking to see such semantics deployed. For every bomb we give the Saudis; true, they may not commit war crimes with that particular weapon, but it simply frees up more resources to commit war crimes elsewhere.
The second part of Fallon’s statement is even more cynical – “we continue to engage with [the Saudis] on these assurances.” How convenient then, in case British-supplied munitions are later found to have been used illegally – it will surely be the Saudis’ fault for not notifying the British government of their transgressions. Fallon, Ellwood and their Conservative government will be off the hook.
This isn’t the UK supplying fighter jets to Saudi Arabia or the UAE, which they later happen to use for war crimes, this is a live conflict, in which war crimes are being committed right now (by both sides, which is an important point). Not only are British troops deployed, but hi-tech explosives are being sent over by our own Ministry of Defence to keep the war going. Just as Tehran is arming the Houthi war criminals, Whitehall is arming the Saudi war criminals. This should be a front-page scandal, but Fleet Street has focused their energies elsewhere. Quietly and insistently, the UK is getting away with murder.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.