United Nations HQ in Geneva

Scots politicians back UN call for Yemen war crimes investigation

Scots politicians have backed a call by the UN for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes in Yemen.

Launching a new report on human rights violations the UN said 3,799 civilians have now been killed and 6,711 injured as a result of the 17 month war.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, said that air strikes by the Arab coalition were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.

The UN’s report highlighted attacks on residential areas, markets, schools and hospitals between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016.

The conflict is between Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces loyal to ousted President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Nearly three million people have been forced to flee their homes and some eight million people are suffering from malnutrition.

Al Hussein called for called for the creation of “an international, independent investigative body to carry out comprehensive investigations”.

He added: “Civilians in Yemen have suffered unbearably over the years from the effects of a number of simultaneous and overlapping armed conflicts. And they continue to suffer, absent any form of accountability and justice, while those responsible for the violations and abuses against them enjoy impunity.

“Such a manifestly, protractedly unjust situation must no longer be tolerated by the international community.”

The Saudi-led coalition uses UK-made warplanes dropping smart bombs with laser guided systems produced by US arms firm Raytheon at its factory in Fife.

But allegations that civilians have been targeted has brought huge pressure on the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Last year the British government approved more than £3bn worth of arms sales to the Saudis.

We revealed last month that a code on a bomb fragment linked Raytheon and another Scots firm to an alleged war crime.

The UK Government is facing a judicial review into arms sales to the Saudis and MPs have been investigating the issue.

Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, sits on the Arms Exports Controls Committee. He said: “A draft report has been prepared by the committee and it’s important that we publish our findings at the earliest opportunity once Parliament returns in a few weeks’ time.”

” I have written to the Chair of the Committee today, urging him to make sure this is our number one action item on our return, especially in light of the UK Government’s withdrawal of answers to parliamentary questions and the retrospective changes they have made to ministerial statements in parliament.

“It’s clear from these actions that UK Government ministers have misjudged the situation in Yemen very badly indeed. They are covering their tracks. The call for an independent based investigation into violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen is well founded and that inquiry cannot come soon enough.”

Ross Greer MSP, External Affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls out violations and abuses, the US and Britain cannot ignore the situation any longer.

“From the use of child soldiers to the dropping of bombs on civilian areas, we bear responsibility thanks to the Westminster Government signing off deeply unethical arms deals. It also underlines the need for the Scottish Government to withdraw its support from firms based here who make weapons components.”

Magdalena Mughrabi, Interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, said: “We welcome the UN High Commissioner’s call for the establishment of an international, independent body to carry out investigations into allegations of grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law being carried out by both sides of the conflict in Yemen.”

“Amnesty International has been calling for such an investigation for months, and so far the response from the international community has been woefully inadequate.”

In reply a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Yemen.  We are aware of the Human Rights Situation Report published by the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 25 August and welcome the opportunity for this to be discussed at the next session of the Human Rights Council in September 2016.”

“We are aware of reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by actors in the conflict and take these very seriously. It is important that all sides conduct thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where it is alleged that IHL has been breached.”

“Saudi Arabia has publically stated that it is investigating reports of alleged violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), and that lessons will be acted upon.  On 4 August, the Saudi led Coalition announced the outcome of eight investigations into incidents of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law during the conflict in Yemen.”

The UN’s report followed criticism of arms sales to Saudi Arabia by Oxfam who said the UK is “one of the most significant violators” of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is supposed to prevent war crimes.

Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: “The UK government is in denial and disarray over its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen . It has misled its own parliament about its oversight of arms sales and its international credibility is in jeopardy as it commits to action on paper but does the opposite in reality.”

“How can the government insist that others abide by a treaty it helped set up if it flagrantly ignores it?”

Home Office failings

Meanwhile, Alison Thewliss, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Central, accused the Home Office of causing refugees fleeing the war in Yemen further stress by failing to process their claims for political asylum quickly.

She said in the first quarter of 2016 there were 101 pending decisions regarding asylum applications by Yemenis. Thewliss added: “The UK is selling weapons that have ended up falling on hospitals and killing many people. From my point of view that’s appalling.”

“Meanwhile, I have two constituents from Yemen who the Home Office said couldn’t stay here. It is worrying that these people are suffering so much uncertainty and stress while getting news each day about what’s happening at home. I think the UK should be giving these people some sort of certainty.”

A Yemeni refugee living in Glasgow who is a constituent of Thewliss was amongst those caught up in the asylum system.

Farid, not his real name, waited nearly seven years for a decision from the Home Office and ended up homeless and destitute after an initial application failed.

He was only recently granted temporary leave to remain and although the decision means he can stay in the UK for five years, Farid cannot bring his family to the UK because he wasn’t given permanent leave to remain.

The pharmacist, who arrived in the UK in October 2009, ended up on the streets of Glasgow and sleeping in homeless shelters because the Home Office initially refused to accept his asylum application.

Farid said: “I can’t go back to Yemen as my life is not safe there. There were six wars prior to 2009. The Arab Spring gave people in Yemen hope because of corrupt governments and military but there is no safety at all. I was physically attacked and my pharmacy was closed down twice.”

“I was also detained on two occasions at checkpoints. I came here from Sa’ada province in north Yemen when I was 34 years old and only got a decision from the UK Government in May. I’m now 41. My father died in Yemen in 2010 when I was here in Glasgow.”

“It was very hard as my Mum had already died. I have made 126 visits to the Home Office in seven years. I want to work as a pharmacist and pay tax but I have little money and live in a hostel.”

A version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 29th August 2016.

Cover photo: United Nations HQ in Geneva | CC | Tom Page | https://flic.kr/p/cqqBJu

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