UK Government support for military forces fighting in Yemen has been condemned after they were listed by the United Nations alongside Daesh, the Taliban and Boko Haram, for killing and maiming children.
The latest criticism of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia followed a new UN report on children and wars which includes a list of shame of armed groups who commit crimes against juveniles.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen was named alongside terror groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Al Shabaab in Somalia, prompting calls for an immediate end to UK arms exports to the Saudis.
The coalition in Yemen – Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Yemen – is led by Saudi Arabia to support President Hadi who is battling Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
The coalition is supported by Britain and America but mounting allegations of war crimes has led to pressure on the UK Government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
The UN’s report – Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict – said the situation in Yemen was “particularly worrisome” due to a five-fold increase in the number of children recruited by armed forces and six times more children killed and maimed compared to 2014.
“In Yemen, owing to the very large number of violations attributed to the two parties, the Houthis/Ansar Allah and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition are listed for killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals,” the UN added.
At least 934 children have been killed in Yemen with another 1356 injured, according to latest figures from UNICEF.
Many died in air strikes by coalition warplanes which has led to allegations of war crimes, claims currently under investigation by MPs.
Kirsty McNeill, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children, said the inclusion of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the UN ‘list of shame’ means they join some of the world’s most violent non-state armed groups.
She added: “This is the first time an international military coalition has been included, and the Saudi coalition features on the list after just 15 months of fighting in Yemen due to the sheer volume and severity of child casualties and damage and destruction to schools and hospitals resulting from coalition airstrikes.”
“The UK must now urgently suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia while they risk being used in Yemen in violation of international law and throw its weight behind calls by the UNHCR, the Commons International Development Committee and Save the Children to back an international, impartial investigation into alleged violations by all sides.”
The continuing reluctance to launch a comprehensive investigation into the reality of what’s happening in the region is shameful. Douglas Chapman MP
Douglas Chapman MP, a SNP member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls at Westminster, said: “What more proof is required to confirm that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-led coalition?
“That it joins the likes of notorious groups such as IS and Boko Haram is surely the wake-up call the West needs. The continuing reluctance to launch a comprehensive investigation into the reality of what’s happening in the region is shameful.
“The UN has staff on the ground in the area. They’ve seen first-hand the horror caused by air strikes. Now Save The Children have expressed grave concerns about the lack of international investigation into such continuing brutality and violence.
“According to the UN, nearly 3000 civilians have been killed, mainly from air strikes.
“We cannot pass by on the other side of the road and the UK Government must be called to account on their arms controls policy.”
The Houthi rebels were named in the UN’s list of shame for attacking civilians and recruiting child soldiers in Yemen.
Crimes by Daesh continued to have a devastating impact on children, the UN said, including child soldier recruitment and the use of boys as executioners.
Boko Haram was listed after increased suicide attacks in Nigeria, including the deployment of 21 girls as suicide bombers in crowded public spaces.
In reply to the UN report, a Foreign Office spokeswoman: “The UK supports the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition’s military intervention, which came at the request of the legitimate President Hadi, to deter aggression by the Houthis and forces loyal to the former president Saleh, and allow for the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government.”
“We are aware of reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by actors in the conflict and take these very seriously. We regularly raise the importance of compliance with IHL with the Saudi Arabian Government and other members of the military coalition.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The UK’s unbending political and military support for Saudi Arabia has had a devastating impact on Yemen . Thousands have been killed by the bombing campaign, and it is civilians that are paying the price.
There is a growing consensus that the bombardment hasn’t just been immoral, it has also been illegal, and yet the UK government has steadfastly refused to support any kind of proper independent investigation.
Instead, government ministers and arms companies have continued to peddle weapons and legitimise a regime that has shown time and again that it has nothing but contempt for human rights.”
Patrick Grady MP, SNP Westminster Spokesperson on International Development said: “This is yet more damning evidence of the atrocities being committed in Yemen . The SNP at Westminster has repeatedly called for the UK Government to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia while a full investigation can take place into allegations that weapons made or sold in the UK are being used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.”
“Groups such as Amnesty International, Save the Children, and now the UN are expressing grave concern about possible breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen. It is time for the UK Government to act.”
Photo credit: Air Strike in San’a | CC | Ibrahem Qasim | http://bit.ly/1U9qaMo