The profitability of the war in Yemen has kept Britain and Saudi on exceptionally close terms
When Saudi authorities opened the year 2016 with a mass execution, they did so to propagate a message, loud and clear; that despite the political and financial challenges the country may be facing, all matters will continue as normal.
Forty-seven people were killed on 2nd January, in a barbaric assault that saw the slaying of political prisoners, some of who were killed simply for the ‘crime’ of attending demonstrations. The diplomatic fallout has exacerbated tensions in the region and seen a breakdown of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
At the same time, the intensifying Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created a humanitarian catastrophe. The bombing began 300 days ago, and, since then, over 5000 people have been killed and vital infrastructure has been destroyed. The British Red Cross said that the conflict has left the country on ‘the precipice of disaster’. Not even hospitals are safe. A care centre for the blind and three MSF medical facilities have been damaged by bombs in the last three months alone.
The UK, for instance, has fully supported and cooperated with the destruction. At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, made the point that the UK has been an active participant in the conflict, and it’s easy to see why. Right from the start, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. Since the conflict began the UK has licensed £2.8 billion of arms to the Saudi government. UK military personnel have helped Saudi authorities to identify targets and, according to Defence News, UK bombs earmarked for the RAF have been transferred to Saudi Arabia to aid the bombing.
Of course, the issue of UK support extends far beyond the actions of this particular Conservative government. Over the last 40 years, various UK governments have built a special military relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The last time there was any real scrutiny of the UK weapons trade with Saudi was in 2004, when the Serious Fraud Office began looking into corruption relating to arms sales to the regime. The investigation threatened to unearth a litany of embarrassing details, but, after a concerted lobbying effort, including interventions by Tony Blair and the attorney general, it was dropped. Shortly after, a deal was signed to sell billions of pounds worth of fighter jets to the regime.
Another outcome of this cooperation has been the high level of integration of UK and Saudi military programmes. About 240 civil servants and military personnel from the UK’s Ministry of Defence currently work to support military contracts through the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Programme and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.
Over recent months, serious allegations emerged that Britain helped lobby behind the scenes to secure Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council; a membership which would be laughable if the on-going consequences weren’t so serious. Furthermore, it is, perhaps, no surprise that Saudi was the only major death penalty state to be omitted from the UK’s anti-death penalty strategy. Perhaps none of this hypocrisy is surprising when the Foreign Office has admitted that human rights are no longer a “top priority” for the government.
The consistently uncritical political and military support that Britain offers to Saudi Arabia is not just immoral – it may well be illegal. A recent legal opinion from Matrix Chambers, commissioned by Safer World and Amnesty International found that the UK government is breaking national, EU and international law and policy by supplying weapons for use in Yemen.
That is one of the reasons why Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and our lawyers at Leigh Day have announced that a pre-action letter is being issued to the government to challenge its decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia, in light of the growing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law. We are calling on the government to suspend all licences for military equipment that may be used in Yemen, pending the outcome of a full review as to whether the export of military equipment is compatible with the EU arms control legislation.
Fawning political and business support of governments like the UK serves to fuel the Saudi regime and makes the chances of long-term peace in the region even more remote. Saudi is not just buying weapons – it’s also buying this western endorsement of its actions. The result is that Britain is both ignoring the abuses taking place and helping to facilitate them.
The bottom line is that as long as the Saudi government enjoys the political and military support of some of the most powerful western nations, oppression and destruction will continue. Violence will be the norm, and innocent Saudi and Yemeni citizens will continue to pay the price.
Image from: http://sputniknews.com/europe/20151217/1031900958/uk-government-saudi-arabia-arms-exports-illegal.html
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.