Britain  •  International

Britain complicit in Saudi war crimes

07 November 2016

ON 8 OCTOBER, two bombs dropped by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen hit a funeral hall in the capital Sana’a while it was packed with mourners, killing more than 140 people and wounding about 500 more.

Saudi officials at first denied that the airstrike ever took place, only later accepting responsibility while claiming it was a mistake.

An official Joint Incidents Assessment Team report, produced with US and UK oversight, upheld the Saudi assertion that civilians were killed and wounded as a result of faulty intelligence and procedural mistakes. But the nature of the attack casts serious doubt on this account.

The aggressors carried out a so-called “double-tap” strike, with a second missile hitting the same target minutes after the first, killing those already wounded as well as first responders to the scene.

A United Nations report on 17 October found that “in respect of the second air strike, that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition violated its obligations in respect of hors de combat and the wounded” under international humanitarian law. Amnesty International has warned of “a pattern of appalling disregard for civilian lives”.

Indeed, the impossibility of sparing civilian lives did not deter the coalition from striking directly at an event attended not only by top Houthi leaders but also by respected neutral figures such as the Mayor of Sana’a, Abdel Qader Hilal.

In the twelve months since the nine-nation Saudi-led coalition began Operation Decisive Storm, British arms exports to Saudi Arabia have risen to £3.3 billion. Exports include so-called smart bombs and components for the combat aircraft that deliver them, while coalition ground forces cross the Yemeni border in British-made armoured vehicles.

The UK has long insisted that it follows strict rules and monitors the use of the weapons that it sells to Saudi Arabia in a trade relationship that goes back decades. But in July the government admitted that it could not prove that international law had not be been violated, contradicting earlier claims that no breaches had taken place. Under pressure from opposition politicians and rights groups, the government retracted four written answers given to MPs and deleted from the official record two speeches given by ministers in Parliament.

In any case, our government can easily observe the Saudi war effort from the vantage point of Saudi mission control, where British advisors and their US counterparts “have access to lists of targets”, according to the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.

Exactly what guidance have these advisors been providing while the coalition has hit hospitals, weddings, schools and museums, as well as graves, tombs, and mosques during months of indiscriminate and often apparently deliberate massacres of civilians?

The inhumanity of this bombing campaign has also seen the Saudis and their allies hitting farms, water infrastructure, food stores, agricultural banks, markets and food trucks in a deliberate effort to degrade the country’s agricultural sector. Our government can hardly claim the moral authority to condemn Russia for its backing of the Assad dictatorship’s bombing of civilians in Aleppo while sustaining a war that has already killed an estimated 10,000 people, displaced around 3 million and left millions more in need of food aid.

Socialists within the Labour Party should therefore commend Jeremy Corbyn’s principled opposition to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and act to censure the 95 Labour MPs whose abstention prevented Labour from inflicting a defeat on the UK government in Parliament over its support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

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