By Mike Phipps
A day of action in opposition to the war on Yemen is planned for January 25th and it’s gathering momentum. Over 260 organisations worldwide are supporting the initiative, making it the biggest international anti-war co-ordination since the campaign against the Iraq war.
Last month, the UN issued a report, saying that 233,000 people had been killed in the war in Yemen over the last six years. It estimates that more than 24 million people in the country, which was already one of the poorest on the planet prior to the war, will need humanitarian assistance in 2021.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world. Children suffer the most, with 100,000 children under five years old at risk of dying from acute malnutrition. Almost 50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition and 9.5 million are unable to access safe water, sanitation or hygiene.
The situation is about to get a lot worse, with the US decision last week to designate the Houthi-backed Ansar Allah organisation in Yemen as a “foreign terrorist organisation”, making it much harder for food suppliers to coordinate operations in the country. Aid agencies are warning of catastrophic effects.
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the UN Security Council that the likely humanitarian impact of the US move would be a “famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years.”
UN World Food Programme executive director David Beasley said simply: ““The designation is going to be a death sentence to hundreds and thousands if not millions.”
Earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the situation in Yemen. Speaking at the launch of his new Project for Peace and Justice, he said, “The UK government is complicit in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, through its arming, training, and support for the Saudi-led coalition. We will do all we can to help bring this already six year long war to an end and support the people of Yemen who have been so brutalized.”
The western-backed Saudi-led coalition has bombed and destroyed vital civilian infrastructure in the country. Over half of Yemen’s healthcare facilities have been damaged and closed due to the war. The Saudis also maintain a sea, land, and air blockade, cutting off Yemen’s access to food, fuel, medicine, and medical equipment.
Western powers are directly implicated in the conflict. During the Trump presidency, there were over 200 air and ground strikes, by the US directly, with around a tenth of all actions leading to the deaths of between 86 and 154 civilians, according to Airwars, which monitors military action in a number of conflict zones.
The US is also the biggest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. In Trump’s last days in office, he was pushing to complete a $500 million arms sale to the Saudi Kingdom and a $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates.
It’s an open question as to whether there will be a change of tack under a Biden Presidency. His former president, Obama, sold large amounts of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, but on the campaign trail Biden struck a different note, promising on one occasion to make the Saudis the “pariahs they are.” The Democrats in Congress are also opposed to continued support for the war, and in 2019, despite Republican control of the Senate, a War Powers resolution was passed that would have ended US involvement in Yemen had Trump not vetoed it.
Meanwhile, the UK government is likely to remain deeply involved in the destruction of Yemen. Saudi combat aircraft pilots receive training in the UK by the Royal Air Force. Over half of the combat aircraft used for bombing raids by the Saudis are supplied by the UK. The British Navy gave the Saudi Navy training in tactics that enable it to impose its devastating blockade on Yemen.
Last year the UK government resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite an earlier court ruling which froze them, following a judicial review mounted by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). The Appeal Court found that the government had failed to properly assess the risk of weapons exported from the UK being used in violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. It ordered the government to carry out a review and retake all its previous decisions in a lawful way.
UK arms sales to the Saudi regime have risen fivefold since 2016. They include cluster bombs that have been dropped over Yemen – despite Britain being among the 100 countries to have prohibited their use – but not their sale to clients abroad.
The government’s justification for the resumption of arms sales has always been that breaches of international law committed by Saudi-led forces did not constitute a pattern and were “isolated incidents”. But CAAT point to a clear lack of commitment by the government to properly monitor breaches of humanitarian law.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson’s government came under pressure to explain why a series of air strikes in Yemen, many involving civilian casualties, had not been recorded in its confidential log of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law. Only 500 breaches had been logged, despite the Saudi-led coalition carrying out over 20,000 air strikes. The government refuses to publish the database, but admitted that among the raids not included were a January 2018 strike on a bridge and a market in Al-Mufdhah area, Qaflah Athr district, resulting in the killing of 17 people and injuries to more than 20 others, and a September 2015 air strike on a funeral gathering in Khabb wa ash Sha’af district in which 30 people died.
The UK has supplied more than £5bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began. The UN claims that Britain and other countries involved in this deadly trade are potentially “aiding and assisting” war crimes by the country’s forces in Yemen.
BAE Systems, the UK’s largest defence contractor, has made a lot of money out of this conflict. Sales to Saudi represent 15% of BAE’s annual earnings and constitute its biggest single export contract. BAE has sold £15bn worth of arms there over the last five years.
Register for the Liberation public meeting on Zoom at 6pm on Thursday 21st January, with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andrew Murray, Stop the War Coalition, Sevim Dagdelen, Member of Bundestag, Germany’s Die Linke party, Kirsten Bayes, Local Outreacher Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Iraklis Tsavdaridis, Executive Secretary, World Peace Council, Chair: Baroness Christine Blower, Former NUT general secretary.
Register for the global online rally at 7pm on Monday 25th January, with Ahmed Al-Babati (British-Yemeni Soldier), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Danny Glover (Actor), Daniele Obono (French National Assembly Member), Tawakkol Karman (Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate), Yanis Varoufakis (MeRA25 Secretary-General).
Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocus. His book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.
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