In early October, the UN added Saudi Arabia to its annual ‘blacklist’ for violence against children. It appears alongside Afghanistan, the DRC, Myanmar and a number of other countries where the UN has been able to verify consistent violations against children.
Last year Saudi Arabia and its coalition were responsible for over 600 child casualties in Yemen, including an air strike on a funeral that killed 24 children. The coalition has attacked 28 schools and 10 hospitals, and has been known to block humanitarian aid.
To these crimes we can now add the biggest cholera outbreak in recent history, which could claim far more lives. Almost half of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed, there are over 3 million displaced people, and 19 million people without access to clean water and sanitation.
And yet, Britain continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Since the conflict began, Britain has shipped £4.6 billion in arms, almost £2 billion of which is bombs. The regime flies British made Typhoon and Tornado jets, and uses British guided missiles.
These arms sales are illegal. The rules that govern arms sales from Britain stipulate that sales should not be authorised where there is a risk that they could be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”. Bombing schools and hospitals qualifies, and the attacks have been repeated and are independently verifiable. Britain is breaking its own laws in order to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Write to your MP about this, and I guarantee you will hear back with a phrase like “Britain has one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.” That’s partly true, but strict rules are worthless if nobody enforces them. That’s where we fall down, because it’s all a matter of interpretation. If it serves the ‘national interest’, no objections will be raised. And by national interest, I mean the shareholders of our arms companies. The majority of ordinary citizens think arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted.
Despite the public’s views on the matter, the government doesn’t just sanction arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It actively campaigns for them. A fortnight ago, before he resigned over other matters, defence secretary Michael Fallon boasted that he’s been working “extremely hard” to secure a new fighter jet contract. “I’ve traveled to Saudi Arabia back in September and discussed progress on the deal with my opposite number.” And then he rebuked those who object: “criticism of Saudi Arabia, in this Parliament, is not helpful.”
In response to government failure, Campaign Against the Arms Trade brought its own prosecution earlier this year. The High Court met for three days, half of that in closed sessions that CAAT’s lawyers were not able to attend. Predictably, the court ruled in favour of the government and allowed arms deals to continue.
CAAT has appealed the decision, but they are bringing a case against very powerful interest groups with much greater political and financial influence. Can you help them to cover expenses? CAAT is currently crowdfunding the next phase of the legal battle on the Crowd Justice platform. You can contribute here.
- feature image by Jacob Valerio