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Saudi Forces Have Inflicted A Terrible Bombardment On Yemen - But The UK Arms Sales Keep Flowing

Almost £3.8 billion worth of UK arms have been licensed to the Saudi regime since the war began

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Theresa May meeting King Salman earlier this year


It was apparently without irony that the UK Mission to the United Nations marked World Humanitarian Day on August 19th by tweeting its support for the #NotATarget campaign. The Tweets focused on the rights of children, as well as on schools, hospitals and other civilian sites and services, rightly arguing that they should never be targets in war.

Only two days prior, a leaked UN report had accused Saudi forces of killing hundreds of children as a result of the terrible bombing campaign it has waged against Yemen for the last two and a half years. It is a bombardment which has been armed and supported by the UK government right from the start.

Almost £3.8 billion worth of arms have been licensed to the Saudi regime since the war began. These include the same Typhoon fighter jets which are flying over Yemen, and the Paveway IV bombs which are being dropped from the sky.

The results have been devastating, and have created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Over 10,000 people have been killed as a direct consequence of the air strikes, with many more dying as a result of the terrible breakdown of the health system and infrastructure.

UNICEF warns that 10 million children have been left in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with most lacking basic medical care, adequate nutrition, fresh drinking water, suitable sanitation and education.

Recent months have seen the spread of cholera, a deadly yet preventable disease that is caused by consuming contaminated food or water. According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has already infected 500,000 Yemeni people, killing almost 2,000.

A recent analysis by Oxfam found it to be the worst cholera crisis on record, with researchers reaching the horrifying conclusion that “more people in Yemen have contracted cholera than any country has suffered in a single year since modern records began.”

The situation is dire, but it is a man-made crisis. That is one reason why a group of medical experts, writing for the Lancet, last week accused the UK government, and others that are arming Saudi forces, of playing “a crucial role in creating conditions conducive to the spread of cholera.”

Despite her government’s complicity in the tragedy, Theresa May has said she wants to forge a ‘deeper partnership’ and an ‘intensification’ in the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a relationship she has pulled out all stops to impress and defend, with arms sales, kind words and a high profile state visit to Riyadh at Easter.

UK arms export criteria clearly states that, if there is a ‘clear risk’ that weapons ‘might’ be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law, then an arms sale should not go ahead. There are few who have been accused of violation as serious as those which a UN Expert Panel and many of the world’s leading NGOs have accused Saudi forces of committing in Yemen.

None of this has passed without controversy in the UK. Arms sales to Saudi have been the subject of intense debate, with the High Court recently considering a Judicial Review application from Campaign Against Arms Trade, which argued that the arms sales haven’t just been immoral but also illegal.

After months of deliberation, the Judges came down on the government’s side, a verdict which campaigners fear will be regarded as a green light for further arms sales to despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. The verdict is being appealed.

In the meantime, Saudi military representatives are among those expected to fly into East London in three weeks time for Defence & Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI), one of the biggest arms fairs in the world. While there, they will be greeted by government ministers, glad-handed by civil servants and descended on by arms dealers and representatives from supposedly ‘respectable’ companies like BAE Systems.

Thousands of activists will gather outside the Excel Centre, which has the dubious honour of hosting this carnival of the grotesque. A week of action has been called, which will include people from all sorts of groups and all walks of life, united in a bid to stop the arms sales and to end Downing Street and Whitehall’s support for the brutal devastation that has been inflicted on the people of Yemen.

Thousands have been killed, vital and lifesaving infrastructure has been destroyed, and the worst cholera epidemic in the world has taken root. What more will it take for Theresa May to live up to the messages being Tweeted by her colleagues at the UN? What more will it take to stop the government she leads from arming those that show such a callous disregard for human life?

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

Source: Huffington Post

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