Bombs with a British accent
According to a report in the Independent, ‘Advisers to Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, have stepped up legal warnings that the sale of specialist missiles to the Saudis, deployed throughout nine months of almost daily bombing raids in west Yemen… may breach international humanitarian law.
‘Since March this year, bombing raids and a blockade of ports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Gulf states have crippled much of Yemen… thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, with schools, hospitals and non-military infrastructure hit. Fuel and food shortages, according to the United Nations, have brought near famine to many parts of the country.’
The report goes on: ‘The UN estimates that 21 million people are now without basic life-sustaining services and over 1.5 million are displaced. Unicef estimates that as many as 10 children a day are being killed.’
Given that the population of Yemen is just over 24 million, the figures demonstrate that almost the entire population is experiencing unimaginable devastation in the onslaught. Yet the international community has simply turned its back.
In a statement which would be laughable were the situation not so devastatingly tragic, the Independent reported: ‘There is concern within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Saudi military’s attitude to humanitarian law is careless. Officials fear that the combination of British arms sales and technical expertise used to assist bombing raids on Yemen could result in the UK being hauled before the International Criminal Court on charges relating to direct attacks on civilians.’
The British government’s attitude to humanitarian law has been arguably been beyond criminally ‘careless’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and they now aim to attack Syria in retaliation for an action in France, committed by French and Belgian-born terrorists of North African descent.
Highlighting this ‘carelessness’, Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s arms trade director, told the Independent: ‘There is a blatant rewriting of the rules inside the [Foreign Office]. We are not supposed to supply weapons if there is a risk they could be used to violate humanitarian laws and the international arms trade treaty – which we championed. It is illogical for Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to say there is no evidence of weapons supplied by the UK being misused, so we’ll keep selling them to the point where we learn they are being used.’
The latest issue of legal embarrassment for David Cameron’s government relates to a report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued on 25 November alleging that ‘the Saudi Arabia-led coalition used a British-made missile to destroy’ Yemen’s Radfan Ceramics factory, ‘a civilian object, on 23 September 2015.’
‘Philip Hammond claims he favours “proper investigations” into possible breaches of the laws of war in Yemen. This strike provides a perfect test case – the UK should urgently press the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to open a credible investigation into this strike, as well as others that appear to have violated the laws of war,’ said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
‘Such attacks are serious violations of International Humanitarian Law and… can constitute war crimes,’ states the Amnesty Report. ‘All countries have legal responsibilities under international law to control the transfer of weapons and to restrict or prohibit their transfer in certain circumstances. The UK is a party to the Arms Trade Treaty [ATT] which came into force in late 2014… Article 7 of the ATT requires that States assess the potential that the arms being exported could be used to commit a serious violation of international human rights or humanitarian law; if there is an overriding risk of this, their export shall not be authorized.’
As Prime Minister Cameron contemplates committing more war crimes in Syria, he might perhaps ponder those he may already have on his plate and reconsider.
He may already be set to follow his admired ‘mentor’, former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair, in having to consult a lawyer before he boards a flight, lest he be arrested. And as someone remarked over another atrocity in another land, the Yemen bomb seemingly ‘has a British accent’.
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.