Although British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt maintains that ties with Saudi Arabia help keep the UK safe, no one can deny the domestic and foreign crimes of the Saudis and no Western government should be supporting them.
On Saturday, as part of his Gulf tour, Hunt was in Riyadh for talks on human rights and the Yemen conflict. This comes after his failure last month to convince Germany to lift its ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which, in Hunt’s words, was damaging for the British and European defense industry.
The Save the Children charity estimates that 85,000 children have starved to death in Yemen’s civil war over the last three years.
Each of these children was under the age of five and most people consider the estimate to be a conservative one based on UN data which says that 1.3 million children have been affected by malnutrition since the war began in 2015, between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition.
Fourteen million people, over half of Yemen’s population, are at risk of starvation because Saudi Arabia blockaded the access of food and medical aid to Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
Save the Children spokesman, Bhanu Bhatnagar, said: “The violence has disrupted food production and destroyed hospitals and health centres where the weak and sick can be treated… For children under the age of five this situation is proving a death sentence.
“These 85,000 deaths are not a result of drought or climate change, they are entirely the result of a man-made conflict that is fuelled by countries that have the power to stop it.”
The brutality of the Saudi regime was highlighted last August when twenty-six children were killed by Saudi airstrikes. The UN humanitarian office revealed that at least four women died in the strike led by the Saudi-led coalition, two weeks after a Saudi airstrike on a school bus killed at least twenty-nine children.
Shortly afterwards, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, revealed that the Saudi airstrike killed twenty-two children and four women who were just trying to escape the fighting in their local district. He pointed out that more attacks that day killed another four children.
He said: “I am also deeply concerned by the proximity of attacks to humanitarian sites, including health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure. The UN and partners are doing all they can to reach people with assistance. Access for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need is critical to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”
Just two weeks before, Saudi airstrikes killed dozens of people, including children, travelling on a bus through a market. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least twenty-nine children under the age of fifteen had died and a further forty-eight of all ages were wounded.
The Saudis’ lethal campaign in Yemen has the backing of Western nations, including Britain, which has been denounced by human rights groups for supporting the Saudi war and selling them arms.
The UN-led peace talks to try and end this war collapsed last autumn and the UN warned this would put 300,000 lives at risk. A UN official, Lise Grande, said: “The situation has deteriorated dramatically in the past two days. Families are absolutely terrified by the bombardment, shelling and airstrikes.”
The Saudis try to defend their actions by claiming that the Hodeidah port is used by Iranian-backed Houthis to extract revenue and smuggle arms. On 12th September 2018, Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, dismissed claims that the Saudis’ brutal airstrikes breached international humanitarian law and promised that the US would continue to send arms to the Saudis for their continued use in Yemen.
Laughably, the US State Department claimed that the Saudis were taking action to protect civilian lives. This was clearly seen as an encouragement for the Saudi coalition to carry on with its bombings.
The UAE ambassador to the US wrote in the Washington Post that this was a battle to defeat Iran and al-Qaeda, claiming that Qatar (which supports Yemen) had been supporting al-Qaeda. Qatar immediately rejected the allegations.
The British government received a severe blow last month when an all-party House of Lords committee stated that Britain is on “the wrong side of the law” by allowing arms exports to Saudi Arabia for their war in Yemen, and called on the government to suspend the export licences.
The report warned that ministers were not checking to ensure the arms sold by Britain were not being used to breach the law and were merely relying on claims by the Saudis. This cross-party committee report was unanimous in describing Britain’s exports as unlawful.
The House of Lords committee said that Britain “should immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies.”
The Lords committee was chaired by David Howell, a former Conservative Cabinet member, so no-one can claim this is merely left-wing criticism.
Foreign Secretary Hunt has now started to campaign for a peaceful settlement in Yemen and flew to Warsaw last month to meet Saudi and US ministers to discuss the state of the ceasefire that was negotiated in Sweden in December. After the meeting, a joint statement said they were sceptical of the Houthis’ support for the Stockholm agreement.
The International Crisis Group has since reported that although “the battle for the Red Sea Port… is paused until the UN brokered deal to demilitarise the area succeeds or collapses, fighting on other fronts has intensified… Saada governorate has faced more Saudi bombardments than any other part of Yemen since the war began.”
Whilst Britain continues to wobble on this issue, Germany has told Hunt that they would not agree to his request to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said any relaxation of Germany’s ban on exports of arms to Saudi Arabia would be “dependent on developments in the Yemen conflict and whether what was agreed in the Stockholm peace talks are implemented.”
As Britain’s arms exports contain German products, Germany’s ban is undermining UK arms sales. At a joint press conference with Maas, Hunt ruled out imposing an arms embargo claiming: “We don’t believe that changing our commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia will help that, in fact we worry that it will do the opposite. It would reduce our influence on that process.”
A leak to the German paper Der Spiegel revealed that Hunt had been lobbying Berlin to allow Britain to sell Eurofighter or Tornado jets to the Saudis. Fortunately, both planes contain German parts and are therefore blocked.
I think it is appalling that the British government is supporting Saudi Arabia, given it is one of the most brutal regimes on Earth. Five Saudis have spent over two years in prison for participating in protests and chanting slogans hostile to their government. The prosecutor in their case has been demanding their execution.
This is in stark contrast to the claims in much of the Western press that the new Saudi King, Salman Al Saud is democratizing Saudi Arabia. It is true that the kingdom lifted a ban on women driving cars and attending sporting events and allowed cinemas to open but he presides over a government that practices torture, beheads dissidents and continues to slaughter the children in Yemen.
Last year, the UN revealed a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention.” Under this so-called progressive leader, 154 people were executed in 2016, and 146 in 2017. Many because of their political opposition to the government.
Given this record, it is bizarre that Britain’s foreign secretary claims that Britain and the Saudis are “partners in fighting Islamist extremism.”
truth is that for many decades Saudi Arabia has funded the rise of
Islamist terrorism across the world. They have spent billions every year
exporting their religious ideology of Wahhabism, the most reactionary,
vicious and austere form of Islam anywhere in the world.
It provided funding for jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Syria and, of course, three quarters of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi citizens. In 2009, internal US government data showed the Saudis as the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The brutality of the Saudis was also highlighted by the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, but this did not stop Britain’s businesses continuing to suck up to the Saudis, with the chief executive of HSBС Bank saying: “I understand the emotion around the story, but it’s very difficult to think about disengaging from Saudi Arabia given its importance to global energy markets.”
These views are not shared by the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who accused Britain’s government of pandering to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who was “feted by Theresa May when he visited the UK this summer . And yet this man is the architect of the war in Yemen, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians.”
Thornberry continued: “He presides over what is projected to be the biggest year of beheadings in Saudi Arabia’s history… of women and men simply for protesting for greater civil, political and religious freedom.”
No one can continue to deny the domestic and foreign crimes of Saudi Arabia and no Western government should be supporting them.
First published by RT.