The United Nations has stated that Yemen is on brink of “world’s worst famine in 100 years” if the Saudi-led backed war against Houthi forces is not stopped. The UN warned that at least 13 million lives are in jeopardy. The Saudi involvement in the aerial bombing campaign of civilian areas would not be possible were it not for the backing of US and European arms exports and technical support.
Our Churches have insisted that, in the light of credible concerns of war crimes carried out by both sides in this conflict, an international arms embargo must be imposed. Our church leaders have written to the Foreign Secretary and our denominations have made our position very clear.
Finally this call is beginning to get a little traction. Last week the Lords’ International Relations Select Committee judged that the UK Government is on the wrong side of international law in not suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia. US Congress last week passed a bipartisan bill aimed at banning the sales of certain types of weapons that might be used in the war in Yemen. The EU Parliament has called for an EU-wide ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Finland and Denmark have implemented a ban. Significantly, in October of last year, Germany that has a strong arms export industry, suspended all new arms contracts with Saudi Arabia.
With international opinion beginning to move in the direction of an international ban, we find our own government mounting a rear-guard action. As Jeremy Hunt flies to Germany today to discuss Brexit, it has been reported that he has written to his opposite number, Heiko Maas. In his letter he says “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.”
The UK Government is helping to negotiate a ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the Yemen’s recognised government. But when it comes to hard measures such as the suspension of weapons sales, it seems that our Government places defence industry interests first. Tellingly, the Foreign Secretary’s letter has been welcomed by Germany defence industry representatives.
A suspension of arms sales is long overdue. Instead of attempting to get the German government to think again, the Foreign Secretary should be pushing for an international suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a UN-led investigation into war crimes in Yemen. If you would like to take action, write to your MP asking them to raise your concerns with the Foreign Secretary. For a background on the conflict in Yemen and the UK legal position on arms exports read our previous blog article here.