UK must be accountable for role in Yemen war

26th Apr 2019

The British Government lost its vastly experienced Middle East spokesman earlier this month when Alistair Burt resigned as Foreign Office Minister over the Prime Minister’s Brexit policy.

So when news broke that several British Special Forces commandos had been wounded in gun battles in Yemen, it was left to Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, to deputise at the despatch box and try to answer embarrassing Parliamentary questions on Britain’s secret proactive involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war crimes ridden assault on Yemen.

He conceded there was a “need to have an internal investigation” into “exceedingly serious, credible and authoritative [media] allegations.”

The British Government’s media strategy has been to simply deny that it was a “party” to the four year war without defining exactly what its specific choice of words actually means. “For the past three years that phrase has been used time and again by ministers to explain that it is impossible to assess alleged individual violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen because we are not a party to the conflict,” said Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry.

The UK’s support to the Saudi air force, including training scores of pilots, as well as supplying billions in arms to the Kingdom, is already public knowledge, however, “If, in addition to all that, our forces are engaged in actual gun battles with the Houthi rebels and that does not constitute being a party to the conflict, I really do not know what does,” she argued.

As a ‘get-out’ clause, the Government never comments on the clandestine operations of its special forces around the world. Field himself was also unable to offer answers on Britain’s involvement, at times even suggesting it was better to write to some of the MPs questioning him.

The UK is intimately involved in the conduct of the war by Saudi Arabia, however much PM Theresa May, tries to deny it. “We have British officials and American officials and officials from other countries in our command and control centre. They know what the target list is, and they have a sense of what it is that we are doing and what we are not doing,” Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said in January 2016 in London.

Another issue needs to be urgently investigated are reports that British forces are providing support to locally recruited, Saudi-funded militia and that many of the fighters – up to 40 per cent, it is alleged – are children as young as 13.

A further concern is the apparent inaction against the outbreak of killer diseases such as cholera, with nearly 110,000 new cases reported since the start of the year, a third of which involving children under the age of five.

A report in February by the House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations said that the UK’s policy towards Yemen had been “relatively straightforward and clear” when quoting evidence taken from Burt.

“From the earliest point we had the sense that there was no military solution” and that Britain had sought to use its efforts to “encourage the diplomatic process that would bring the conflict to an end so that there could be humanitarian assistance for those who had been disrupted by the conflict and the process of governance could go on,” the then minister had informed peers.

But at the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen in 2015, the former Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, declared that his Government would “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.”

It is baffling to understand why the Government needs to investigate the level of involvement of its armed forces and security advisers in Yemen. Surely the Ministry of Defence must be fully aware of and accountable to what is Government policy. Saudi Arabia and its allies have repeatedly been accused of committing war crimes over the military intervention, killing thousands of civilians and creating currently the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Urgent answers are not only needed but sincere attempts must be launched to end the brutal war.

Civilian lives matter, Prime Minister, Theresa May.

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