Emma Topic

The four years to 2018 have seen history’s largest humanitarian crisis take place in the war-torn country of Yemen. With one of the worst famines in 100 years and the largest cholera outbreak on record, the UN estimates that four-fifths of the Yemeni population (over 22 million) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Has the bombing of Houthi rebels by the Saudi led coalition led to the slaughter of Yemeni civilians and why are US and UK arms, drones and bombs being used to target lives?

The Yemen war

The war in Yemen began in 2011, when Houthi Shia Muslim rebels seized control of the country’s capital, forcing authoritarian president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile. This led Saudi Arabia to begin air strikes against the Houthis, in order to restore Mr Hadi’s government. Over the last four years, data have shown that the Saudi led coalition are responsible for over 67 percent of fatalities in Yemen, the Houthis for 16 percent. The Saudi bombing campaign has been targeting non-military areas, with over one third of their targets civilians and civilian
infrastructure.

Arms for lives?

Why does the UK back a coalition responsible for the death of thousands of civilians? According to the Arms Transfer Database, Saudi Arabia has been the largest importer of arms from the UK since 2010. The UK has licensed over £4.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and a further £860 million to Saudi coalition partners. There is a direct link between arms sales and the extent of human catastrophe. The deadliest year of the Yemen war appears to be 2018, in which Saudi forces attempted to reconquer Hodeidah from the Houthi movement, pushing the country into full blown famine. That same year was the “best ever year” for UK arms exports, making over £14 billion pounds through the sale of Typhoon jets used in the conflict. Not only is this simply immoral, but it is also illegal. EU and National arms export licensing criteria state that if there is a “clear risk” that a weapon may violate international humanitarian law it should not be licensed. The United Kingdom may be breaking its own laws and contributing to the largest humanitarian crisis in history, while making billions of pounds.

What can WE do?

UK Foreign Secretary in 2018 and 2019, Jeremy Hunt believes that by halting military exports to Saudi Arabia, the UK would “surrender” its influence and make itself “irrelevant to the events in Yemen”. It’s possible that history’s largest humanitarian crisis could have been averted if the UK and US had chosen not to deal arms with the Saudi government. Perhaps it would be better for the UK to do that and make itself irrelevant to the events in Yemen. The UK could detach itself from the possible misuse of arms by the Saudi-led coalition and begin to work towards developing a diplomatic peace treaty to put an end to the disastrous conflict.

We must educate ourselves about the situation in Yemen, encouraging others to be socially aware in order to challenge our governments to make better decisions. Taking action is as easy as simply sharing this article, or by joining your local Stop the War Coalition to take part in national protests. The only way to get our voices heard is to make some noise. Don’t stay silent, we owe it to the people in Yemen to speak up and create change.

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