An international law group has submitted new evidence to the UK government alleging that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has covered up evidence of its unlawful airstrikes on civilian targets.
A 288-page report submitted to the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and UK law firm Bindmans contains witness testimony as well as crater and bomb-fragment analysis from scores of strikes carried out by the coalition. It is the most comprehensive independent analysis of the Saudi bombing campaign compiled so far.
The report says the attacks appear to violate international humanitarian law by “targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure”.
GLAN’s director Gearóid Ó Cuinn said: “The UK government can either rely on discredited Saudi assurances or listen to those who have documented painstakingly the constant civilian deaths caused by coalition airstrikes.”
The evidence was largely compiled by Mwatana, an independent Yemeni human rights group used by the UN to collect evidence in Yemen. In many cases, its evidence, gathered very soon after Saudi bomb strikes, directly contradicts the post-strike investigations conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Mwatana, seen as impartial by the UN, has field researchers operating in 21 out of Yemen’s 22 governorates.
Arron Merat, a researcher for the Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, said
“This evidence shows not only that Riyadh is targeting Yemeni civilians but that it is covering them up with whitewash ‘investigations’. What’s worse is that the British government says that it bases its decisions on whether or not to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia on information provided to it by Saudi Arabia.”
Under British law, it is illegal for the government to licence arms exports if there is a “clear risk” that they might be used to deliberately or recklessly kill civilians. UK ministers have admitted in court filings they did not undertake any independent analysis, but had relied upon the ad hoc reports from the Saudi coalition’s own Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT)
Mwatana looked at more than 400 bombing incidents, and the GLAN/Bindmans report highlights 16 documented instances where evidence of an attack compiled by Mwatana was denied. In a further four instances, the report says JIAT claimed the attacks were justifiable assaults on military targets where on-the-ground evidence suggested otherwise. The report says JIAT falsely denies responsibility for many attacks, including a 21 September 2016 attack on a funeral in Hodeidah city, which killed 23 people, including five children. The report includes photographs of the tail fins from guided missiles and a missile fragment which has been identified as coming from a US-made GBU-16 bomb. Only the coalition has the capacity to deliver such munitions.
Similarly, JIAT also denied an attack on a market at the al-Khoukha roundabout in Hodeidah governorate on 10 March 2017, which killed 21 civilians including three children.
JIAT also concluded no airstrike took place on in the Unesco-protected al-Feleihi district of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on 18 September 2015. New evidence filed by Bindmans and Mwatana includes pieces of bomb fragmentation that have been identified as coming from an air-delivered explosive.
Radhya Almutawakel, the chair of Mwatana for Human Rights, said: “The UK should have stopped selling arms to the Saudi coalition a long time ago. We hope this evidence helps them finally make the right decision”.