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Now the High Court Must Decide if We're Complicit in the Yemen War
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In the south west corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Britain is complicit in one of the worst and least noticed crimes against humanity in the 21st century. Thanks to Saudi air strikes starting two years ago, a localised civil war in Yemen was transformed into a devastating conflict which has brought 12 million people to the edge of famine. Some 19 million Yemenis out of a total population of 25 million lack fresh water to drink and 4 million do not have enough food to eat.

In bringing about this man-made calamity, the British Government has played a small ignoble role as a supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia whose air raids are primarily responsible for the destruction.

The continuation of arms sales that are the subject of a legal challenge before the High Court in London this week on the grounds that the weapons will be used in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law. Critics of the US and Britain say they play an essential role in supporting the Saudi-led air campaign that has destroyed much of the Yemen’s infrastructure. The poorest Arab country, it used to import 90 per cent of its food – but this has become far more difficult since air strikes destroyed cranes in the port of Hudayda on the Red Sea coast in 2015. The loss of the always inadequate sewage and garbage disposal facilities has led to the spread of cholera and dengue fever. In addition, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting and 3.27 million people forced to flee their homes.

The suffering is likely to grow worse because the prolonged Saudi attempt to defeat the Houthi rebels, who are allied to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has so far only produces a military stalemate. The rebels still hold the capital Sana’a and much of the north of the country. The Saudi ambition to split the alliance between the Houthi and Saleh has so far failed.

British support for the Saudi campaign has provoked little public interest, but the Government is now facing a landmark case before the High Court in London as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) seeks an order to stop the sale of British-made bombs, fighter aircraft and other munitions to Saudi Arabia. CAAT says that since the start of the conflict, Britain has approved export licences for arms worth £3.1bn to Saudi Arabia.

The British Government maintains that it does not licence weapons when there is a clear risk of humanitarian law being breached. But there is evidence that Saudi pilots either do not know or do not care what they are bombing. US officials are quoted by The Washington Post as saying that “errors of capability or competence, not of malice” explain repeated strikes against civilian targets but this lack of intent means that no international laws are being broken.

American and British support for Saudi Arabia as their main regional ally has been automatic in the past, but its policies have become more aggressive and nationalistic since King Salman became Saudi monarch in 2015.

Though the US and UK have sought to present the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, there is little sign that they get much help from Tehran, though Saudi intervention has served to deepen – and make more sectarian – a complicated civil war inside Yemen.

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it has a strong incentive to strengthen existing alliances with trading partners in the Gulf and elsewhere. Theresa May has already visited Bahrain and Turkey, both notoriously prohibiting dissent and imprisoning journalists and opposition leaders.


President Obama’s administration had begun to distance itself from supporting Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states of the Gulf, but the Trump administration is showing himself itself as much more sympathetic to Saudi Arabia and hostile to Iran with officials saying that the US will give full support to the Saudi-led air offensive.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen 
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  1. ” The poorest Arab country, it used to import 90% of its food…..”
    So obviously 2 years later, most of the 25 million population should have died. The fact that nothing remotely near this scale has happened indicates you are peddling complete BULLSHIT !
    We should be seeing Ukraine in the 1930s 0r Nigeria in the late 1960s. Except we’re not.
    Cockburn, you’re not a journalist, you’re a purveyor of fake news, just like your Stalinist father.
    You are a despicable human being.

    • Replies: @AnObserver
  2. @Verymuchalive

    UNICEF reports that a child under five dies every ten minutes in Yemen. So please pull your head out of your ***.

    • Replies: @Gandydancer
  3. @AnObserver

    Yeah, war is a bitch. But that’s no reason for anyone to prefer Houthis to Saudis or vice versa.

    This is a silly article. It treats “international humanitarian law” as if it were something to be respected, but “international humanitarian law” is a joke of no import whatsoever. States fight and their legitimacy emerges from the barrels of their guns. To end the suffering one must win, and a Saudi win is not obviously inferior to a Houthi one. If you have a dog in this fight, make your argument. But don’t arouse my contempt by appealing to “international humanitarian law”.

    • Replies: @Randal
    , @AnObserver
  4. Randal says:

    It treats “international humanitarian law” as if it were something to be respected, but “international humanitarian law” is a joke of no import whatsoever.

    You say that and I’d love to agree with you, but since “global humanitarian law” in various forms is regularly used by the UK regime as a propaganda tool and as a weapon against its enemies, it would be highly just if it were on this occasion to actually backfire upon them. This rarely happens, because US sphere courts generally know when they have to pretend words mean something wholly different when applied to US/UK allies, from what they mean when used against targets of aggression by US sphere, but you never know.

  5. Randal says:

    As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it has a strong incentive to strengthen existing alliances with trading partners in the Gulf and elsewhere.

    As Cockburn well knows, this has little or nothing to do with Brexit. The Cameron regime clearly decided years ago to double down on the literally stupid and catastrophically short-sighted policy of entangling Britain in alliances with Gulf sunni despots.

    UK to establish £15m permanent Mid East military base

    If the irrationally Iran-phobic Yanks get involved in another catastrophically stupid ME war, this time with Iran, we were always unfortunately almost certain to get dragged into it by the anachronistic alliance we maintain with them, but this way we get dragged in even if it’s just some fat-headed sunni sheik deciding to provoke a showdown.

    Another foreign policy triumph from the men who brought the world Iraq and Libya, and tried their damnedest to do the same in Syria.

  6. @Gandydancer

    You say: “But that’s no reason for anyone to prefer Houthis to Saudis or vice versa.”

    Really? That shows how much you know. The Wahhabi ideology which comes from Saudi Arabia has affected the whole world: Sept 11, London, Paris, Sinjar, Istanbul,………
    Where have you been dude?
    If you really think so, then enjoy the Wahhabi bombings and stabbings in Europe and America. The’re just getting started.

    • Replies: @Gandydancer
  7. 5371 says:

    Yemen’s population must be far above 25 million by now. Despite an economic level which has sunk to the African, they have a relatively distinguished military reputation, and the Houthis are certainly living up to that. Saudis and Emiratis, on the other hand, are human vermin, turds in silk wrapping. Any power which allies with them condemns itself.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  8. @AnObserver

    You’re evidently illiterate. Try to comprehend: “Yeah, war is a bitch. But THAT’s no reason for anyone to prefer Houthis to Saudis or vice versa.”

    This is not the same statement as, “THERE IS no reason for anyone to prefer Houthis to Saudis or vice versa.”

    That said, I’m unconvinced by your argument that there is any reason to prefer the Iranian-backed Houthis to Saudis.

    The proper humanitarian insight is that the sooner the Saudis win the sooner the 4 million will get enough food to eat, etc.

    • Replies: @krollchem
  9. Saudi is a very comfortable customer for the military-industrial complex of US and UK. They have money and they are always engaged in some wars, proxy and not proxy. Their political line almost coincide with the goals of The West: radicalisation of Muslims and use them against traditional Muslim religion. Traditional Muslims, because of their egalitarian nature, are dangerous both for the multinational corporations and the monarchies.

  10. @5371

    You make my point. The population of Yemen seems still to be increasing. If it really did import 90% of its food , it would have been forced to surrender to the Saudis, camel turds though they truly are. Many brave peoples have had to surrender over the centuries after being starved out.
    The 90% figure seems to have plucked out of the air by Cockburn. This is the act not of a proper journalist but a hack, a purveyor of fake news. As if we didn’t know already.
    Mr Unz, are you listening ?

  11. krollchem says:

    What are you up to? Could you provide links supporting some of your inflammatory comments?

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