UK · Yemen

The UK Government continues to underplay its role in Yemen

It has been well reported in independent media that the UK, along with the US, is involved in the war in Yemen which is being waged by Saudi Arabia. The reason for this conflict has been summarised by Ben Norton:

This war was conceived to prevent Yemen from ever enjoying the capacity to rebel, wage a revolution, or govern itself as an independent state. Yemeni nationalists have tried for decades to forge a path independent of the US and Saudi Arabia, and have been ruthlessly punished for it.

Ben Norton, independent journalist

Saudi Arabia’s tactics in this conflict have involved launching mass bombing campaigns against Yemen, many of which have bombed explicitly civilian targets. The Saudi-led violence has had a devastating effect on the country, with mass outbreaks of cholera and famine.

The UK is a part of this conflict through its arming of Saudi Arabia and providing assistance to the bombing campaigns against Yemen. A recent Guardian report, entitled “The Saudis couldn’t do it without us: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war” and written by Arron Merat, details British involvement. The main claims of the article are that the UK not only produces bombs that are used by Saudi Arabia, but also that the firm BAE Systems is contracted by the government to play a role there and that there have been British military personnel in Saudi Arabia – and even that UK special forces have crossed over into Yemen during Saudi ground operations.

I mention this Guardian report specifically because the MP Brighton Kemptown Lloyd Russell-Moyle posed a question to the government as to “whether the UK is a party to the conflict in Yemen” which references this report.

As outlined in the Guardian article, the concept of a ‘party’ has a specific meaning under international law. The Guardian article defines the concept of a party:

Being a party to a conflict means providing military, financial or logistical support that directly degrades the military capacity of another belligerent and weakens their ability to conduct hostilities

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office) responded to Russell-Moyle’s question in the following way:

The UK is not part of the coalition operating in Yemen and the UK has no role in setting coalition policy. Our assistance is limited to addressing the specific threats faced by the Saudis. We are providing information, advice and training to help Saudi Arabia respond to these threats. We have also shared techniques with the Saudis for minimising civilian casualties. The UK has a range of British personnel deployed across the region, but all remain under British command and control.

As is obvious, this does not answer the question of whether the UK is a party to the conflict, which was the question asked. The response does not mention the word ‘party’ and instead says that the UK “is not part of the coalition”. This is a semantics game and a way of avoiding the question.

The response then claims that the UK assistance is ‘limited to specific threats’. Again note the deliberate vagueness in the response. ‘Specific threats’ could refer to pretty much anything, and it could also be used as a pretext for pretty much anything, making it an unsatisfactory answer.

Murrison also claims that they have ‘shared techniques for minimising civilian casualties’. Obviously, this claim may be technically true, in that the UK government told the Saudi government how to minimise casualties. However, looking at in a broader sense, this claim is surely nonsense as the UK would not be assisting Saudi Arabia if it had real concerns about civilians, given the nature of the war.

Any honest analysis of the war in Yemen will demonstrate that the Saudi government is deliberately targeting civilians – not just accidentally harming civilians. According to the Yemen Data Project at least 6,184 airstrikes hit civilian targets. For example, Saudi Arabia bombed a cholera treatment centre operated by Doctors without Borders. These bombings have continued despite any alleged concerns expressed by the UK.

It is obvious that the UK’s provision of arms to Saudi Arabia makes it a party by any reasonable definition. The UK is continuing to underplay its role in the Yemen conflict – and the vast majority of the mainstream media have been silent.

NB. This article notes the decision of the court regarding arming Saudi Arabia, and directs the reader here.