Eight years of war: Anti-war coalition urges international community to stop arms exports to Yemen

'The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is manmade – the result of deliberate policy decisions by the warring parties and their international allies, including the UK.'


Eight years ago today (March 26, 2015), a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition launched an aerial campaign on Yemen. The intervention escalated the conflict in the war-torn country, and, with it, civilian suffering.

The ongoing conflict has claimed over 300,000 lives and the displacement of more than four million people. Due to the conflict-related damage to civil infrastructure, and deliberate actions of warring parties, the life-saving aid and provisions that more than 23 million Yemenis desperately need, along with food, water and medical supplies, have been obstructed. Oxfam warned this week that Yemen is on the brink of economic collapse.

Following years of devastating conflict, Yemen is littered with landmines and other explosives, such as rockets and artillery shells. A new report by Save the Children shows that in 2022, a child in Yemen was killed or injured by an explosive every two days. Despite a UN-led truce being in place from April to October last year, the rate of child blast injuries in 2022 was the highest for five years.

On the eight-year anniversary of the bombardment campaign, an anti-war coalition comprising of 32 different organisations around the world is calling for European arms companies to be held accountable for their involvement in possible war crimes. The UK’s Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights in the UK, are both involved in the campaign.

In a joint statement issued on CAAT’s website, the coalition is demanding that investigations into the criminal responsibility of European authorities and arms companies be carried out both at a national and international level by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The anti-war coalition is also calling on arms exports and military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which still continue today, to be stopped. And that licensing procedure and export licenses be reviewed retroactively, as “export licenses must not be allowed to function as authorisations to continue human right violations with impunity.”

“The response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine demonstrates that the international community is capable of investigating potential international crimes. The people of Yemen also deserve the same degree of international engagement in efforts to prosecute those responsible for the serious crimes and human rights violations that have been and are being committed against them,” said the statement.

Along with the US, the UK is one of Saudi Arabia’s leading arms suppliers. As of January 2023, the published value of UK arms licensed for export to the Saud-led coalitions since the intervention began in March 2015, was £9.4bn. Though CAAT estimates the value of arms exports to Saudi to be over £23bn. Furthermore, the value of ongoing maintenance, training and technical support that BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest arms providers, provides to the Royal Saudi Air Force in Saudi Arabia. As CAAT notes, ‘this support is absolutely essential to Saudi Arabia’s ability to wage its war in Yemen.”

Left Foot Forward asked the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which is involved in the campaign to stop arms exports and end impunity, their thoughts on the UK’s continued complicity in the war by supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition. Miriam Puttick, head of Middle East and North African Programmes, told us:

“The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is manmade – the result of deliberate policy decisions by the warring parties and their international allies, including the UK.

“The intervention in Yemen is being carried out with complete disregard for international law, including the prohibition of attacks on civilian targets, and the proportionality principle.

“Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for a massive civilian death toll and widespread attacks on civilian infrastructure. In the first four years of the conflict alone, there were no fewer than 153 coalition airstrikes on schools and educational facilities, as documented in a report published by Ceasefire and Mwatana.

“The UN has repeatedly named the UK as one of the five main countries fuelling war in Yemen through arms sales to warring parties. The UK’s continued support of the Saudi-led coalition gives it a green light to continue committing atrocities with impunity.

“The Court of Appeal has already ruled that the UK’s policy of exporting arms to Saudi Arabia was unlawful, due to the UK’s failure to consider past breaches of international law by the Saudi-led coalition when issuing export licenses. However, the UK has continued selling arms, arguing that these breaches of international law were ‘isolated.

“The UK has a duty to ensure that its military support and arms exports do not breach its international legal obligations and human rights standards. In light of the widespread nature of the violations being committed in Yemen, which likely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UK cannot claim to be unaware of the deadly impact of its support.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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