Saudi Arabia is waging a bloody war in Yemen and receive 30 per cent of the United Kingdom’s exports of planes, missiles and bombs, with an 11 per cent increase in contracts in the first three months of 2015.
Since the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, together with Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Sudan, came on the scene in 2015 to restore power to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and get rid of the Houthi rebels who had taken the capital, arms contracts between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia have risen to a value of £6 billion (nearly €8 billion or US$7.6 billion).
The United Kingdom provides the coalition with logistical support and military intelligence as well as arms. According to information revealed by the Independent newspaper, the British government is training the Saudi air force. The human rights organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International warned of the use of cluster bombs “made in Great Britain” against civilian targets such as farms in the north of the country. Bombs which, furthermore, are proscribed by international law.
“Riyadh is a key trading partner,” says George Joffé, a research fellow and professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. “The main answer as to why the United Kingdom supports the coalition is as simple as it is shameful: contracts”.
Under UK arms export law it is illegal to sell arms or munitions to a state that is at “clear risk” of committing serious violations of international humanitarian law. To date, the United Nations has recorded at least 119 coalition attacks that have violated international law, many of them including shelling civilian installations such as hospitals, schools, mosques or markets. However, the British government is firmly opposed to an arms embargo against its ally, claiming there is no conclusive proof of human rights violations. But it is also opposed to an investigation by an impartial tribunal. In October, the United Kingdom blocked a proposal by the Netherlands that the EU should ask the UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent inquiry into war crimes in Yemen.
“The United Kingdom’s intervention in Yemen is absolutely illegal, even worse than in Iraq,” Kim Sharif, a British lawyer of Yemeni origin and founder of Human Rights for Yemen. “The difference is that the United Kingdom’s participation in the war in Yemen has not even been approved by parliament, it has been completely silenced. The Prime Minister and the cabinet must shoulder the consequences of a conflict in which it has become deeply involved”.
The coalition has imposed a partial naval and air blockade, with a view to preventing supplies from reaching the Houthi rebels. This blockade has made the cost of foodstuffs rise sharply, in a country that is already very poor and is 90 per cent dependent on imports. As a result, about 375,000 children in Yemen are suffering severe malnutrition. Four out of five Yemenis depend on humanitarian aid to survive, according to Amnesty International data.