UN heaps more shame on Britain’s role in Yemen
Wednesday 17th February 2016
When the usually spineless organisation says British made bombs in Saudi hands are targeting civilians, the time to protest is overdue, writes FELICITY ARBUTHNOT
IT IS possible to speculate why Prime Minister David Cameron has declared it his mission to scrap the Human Rights Act.
It appears he simply does not believe in human rights. For example, the fact that Saudi Arabia executed (in some instances beheaded) 47 people in one day last month and displayed their bodies from gibbets didn’t deter Cameron from letting British military experts work with their Saudi counterparts.
Those experts advised on which targets and people to bomb in Yemen. Parliament has not been consulted; thus democracy too has been suspended. The fact that in May 2013 Saudi also beheaded five Yemenis and used cranes to display their headless bodies against the skyline also did not trouble him. Neither did the fact that by November 10 2015, the year’s total of executions had already reached 151, the highest for 20 years, in what Amnesty International called “a bloody executions spree.”
But why care about human rights or outright savagery when there are arms to be sold? As I have previously pointed out, in one quarter last year we sold Saudi Arabia £1,066,216,510 in export licences for bombs, missiles, rockets, and components of those items.
Cameron’s government treats such barbarism with astonishing sanguinity. For instance, it has come to light that in 2011 Britain drew up a list of 30 “‘priority countries’ where British diplomats would be ‘encouraged’ to ‘proactively drive forward’ and make progress towards abolishing the death penalty over five years.” Saudi Arabia was not on the list — an omission which Amnesty International’s Head of Policy Alan Hogarth called “astonishing” in the Independent.
However, a Foreign Office spokeswoman told the Independent that “a full list of countries of concern was published in March 2015 in the Annual Human Rights Report and that includes Saudi Arabia and its use of the death penalty.” Wrong. In the report under “Abolition of the Death Penalty,” there is much concentration on countries in the “Commonwealth Caribbean” and a casual, subservient nod at the US, but no mention of Saudi.
Under “The Death Penalty” Jordan and Pakistan were mentioned, and “Asia and the Commonwealth Caribbean” attract particular focus. Singapore, Malaysia, China and Taiwan, Japan (which executed three people in 2014), Suriname and Vietnam are cited. Saudi Arabia is nowhere to be found. Under the heading “Torture Prevention,” there is a quote from David Cameron: “Torture is always wrong,” attributed to December 9 2014. Paragraph one makes plain that “the impact on victims, their families and their communities is devastating. It can never be justified in any circumstance.” A number of countries are listed. No prizes for guessing, in spite of medieval torture practices, which is not.
However, under “Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law” it states that “the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued revised guidance on the human rights aspects of OSJA (Overseas Security and Justice Guidance) in February 2014. The guidance ensures that officials do their utmost to identify risks of UK actions causing unintended human rights consequences.”
What an irony, as David Cameron is currently moving heaven and Earth to halt legal action against British soldiers accused of extreme human rights abuses in Iraq. As Lesley Docksey has pointed out, “hundreds of complaints have been lodged with the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which was investigating between 1,300 and 1,500 cases.
Many are simple complaints of ill treatment during detention, but some are far more serious [including] death[s] while detained by the British Army, deaths outside a British Army base or after contact with the British Army [and] many deaths following ‘shooting incidents’.”
Worse, the British government is considering taking action against Leigh Day, one of the law firms dealing with some of the cases. Public Interest Lawyers is also in their sights. The government has sold weapons to 24 of 27 countries on its own list of “countries of humanitarian concern,” according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), with Saudi Arabia in a £4.5 billion deal to purchase 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from us.
“The overriding message is that human rights are playing second fiddle to company profits,” said CAAT spokesperson Andrew Smith. He added: “The government and local authorities up and down the country are profiting directly from the bombing of Yemen. Challenging them to divest from Saudi Arabia … is something people can do directly.”
In the light of a 51-page UN report on the bombing of Yemen obtained by various parties on January 27, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for an immediate suspension of arms sales to Saudi pending the outcome of an independent inquiry.
Cameron stated, farcically, that: “Britain had the strictest rules governing arms sales of almost any country, anywhere in the world.”
However the UN report states: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted air strikes [in Yemen] targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”
It adds: “The panel documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law.”
It also reported cases of civilians fleeing and being chased and shot at by helicopters. Moreover, it stated that the humanitarian crisis was compounded by the Saudi blockade of ships carrying fuel, food and other essentials that are trying to reach Yemen.
The panel said that “civilians are disproportionately affected” and deplored tactics that “constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare.”
David Mepham, UK director of Human Rights Watch, commented: “For almost a year, [Foreign Secretary Philip] Hammond has made the false and misleading claim that there is no evidence of laws of war violations by the UK’s Saudi ally and other members of the coalition.”
The Ministry of Defence, declining to say how many British military advisers were in Saudi command and control centres, said that the UK was “offering Saudi Arabia advice and training on best-practice targeting techniques to help ensure continued compliance with international humanitarian law.”
Yet another quote for the “you could not make this up” files. It has to be wondered whether the Ministry’s “best practice targeting techniques” include the almost 100 attacks on medical facilities between March and October 2015, a practice which compelled the International Committee of the Red Cross to declare itself in November “appalled by the continuing attacks on healthcare facilities in Yemen.”
It issued its statement after “alThawra hospital, one of the main healthcare facilities in Taiz which is providing treatment for about 50 injured people every day, was reportedly shelled several times.” The statement continued: “It is not the first time health facilities have been attacked … Close to a hundred similar incidents have been reported since March 2015. “Deliberate attacks on health facilities represent a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
An earlier attempt to have the UN Human Rights Council establish an inquiry failed due to objections from Saudi Arabia, who, with help from Britain, currently chair an influential panel on the same Human Rights Council. Farce is alive and well in the corridors of the UN.
The repeated attacks on a medical facility and buildings and places of sanctuary protected under international humanitarian law are testimony to the total disregard for it by Britain, the US and their allies — and those they “advise.”
British Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood, an US-born former soldier visited Saudi Arabia last month and was quoted in al-Watan newspaper as attacking “the ignorance of the British to the notable progress in Saudi Arabia in the field of human rights, confirming throughout the visit of a British FCO delegation … that he had expressed his opinion regarding the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia before the British Parliament, and that the notable progress in this area has been obscured.”
The Foreign Office strongly denied that Ellwood had expressed such a view. The Saudi-led, British-advised and US “intelligence-led” coalition is reported to have formed “an independent team of experts” to assess “incidents” (which should be described as outrages and war crimes) in order to reach “conclusions” and “lessons learned.”
Thus, as ever, the arsonist is to investigate the cause of the fire. Amnesty, Human rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (who have had three medical facilities bombed) and the Campaign to Stop Bombing in Yemen have all called for an independent inquiry with the power to hold those responsible for atrocities to account.
None of which, however, would bring back the dead, restore the disabled, disfigured, limbless, or beautiful, ruined, ancient Yemen — another historical paradise lost.
As Saudi starts ‘largest’ military exercises, Turkey & Saudi start joint air force drills: here.
A woman in Saudi Arabia has secretly filmed her husband cheating on her at their home by groping a housemaid. The vengeful wife published the video online, but now faces up to one year in prison according to the kingdom’s laws: here.