There can longer be any credibility to the claim that the U.K. promotes human rights and democracy on the world stage, not while it is supporting one of the most abusive regimes in the world while it bombs one of the poorest countries in the world.
LONDON — “The Wire” actor Dominic West is leading a new campaign by charity Save the Children calling for the U.K. government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is fighting a war in Yemen. The charity has produced a video with West that shows a laser-guided Paveway IV bomb — the type made in Scotland by U.S. firm Raytheon — emerge from the darkness.
The 60-second film is called “Made In Britain” and was shot in the style of a glamorous advertising campaign — with the score of Elgar’s “Nimrod” as a musical backdrop. As the missile is revealed, West narrates a patriotic-style poem that ends with the closing line “Made in Britain, dropped on children.”
Save The Children is urging the public to sign a petition asking British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to suspend U.K.’s arms trade with Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of nations accused of war crimes in Yemen. The U.K. Government has approved £3.8 billion of arms licences to Saudi Arabia since the conflict escalated in March 2015.
West — a high-profile supporter of Save the Children — played the role of Baltimore detective Jimmy McNulty in the popular U.S. television series, “The Wire.” Launching Save The Children’s video, West said:
By lending my voice to the ‘Made in Britain’ film released today, I am standing side by side with Save the Children in calling on the British Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. For me, as a proud Brit, this is completely unacceptable. We are providing aid to Yemen, but also selling weapons which are being used in a country where children are being bombed and starved.”
Human costs of Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen
The English actor said he had witnessed firsthand the “unthinkable pain” the war has had on families, after visiting the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan last year with Save the Children.
Yemen’s war has been catastrophic. In January, the UN said that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, fought between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition supporting the ousted government. Since March 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has recorded a total of 13,504 civilian casualties, including 4,971 people killed and 8,533 injured.
In light of these civilian casualties, a group called Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has also been trying to end U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, taking the U.K. Government to court claiming that U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia breached international humanitarian law. CAAT recently submitted a legal appeal after the High Court in London ruled in July that U.K. arms sales to the Saudis could continue, despite multiple allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law leveled against the coalition. The U.K. Government has until the end of October to respond.
Massive arms sales but modest humanitarian aid
U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia since March 2015 include £2.6 billion for aircraft, helicopters and drones. The British government has also sanctioned sales of grenades, bombs and missiles worth £1.1 billion, according to CAAT. Regarding missiles made in Scotland by U.S. firm Raytheon, U.K. Defence Minister Michael Fallon confirmed last year that Paveway IV bombs had been used by Saudi forces. Human Rights Watch linked these U.K.-licensed bombs to attacks on civilian targets in its recent Bombing Businesses report.
Written evidence from the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that U.K.-built Tornado and Typhoon aircraft have been used in combat missions in Yemen by the Royal Saudi Air Force.
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, stated:
History will look very badly on this period and on the startling hypocrisy that has underpinned U.K. policy. There can longer be any credibility to the claim that the U.K. promotes human rights and democracy on the world stage, not while it is supporting one of the most abusive regimes in the world while it bombs one of the poorest countries in the world.”
Earlier this month, the UN listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in its annual blacklist for grave violations against children during conflict in 2016. A draft of the report – first seen by Reuters – also blacklists the Houthis, Yemeni government forces, pro-government militias and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This listing followed the UN’s establishment of an expert group to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen, a move that Amnesty International described as a “momentous breakthrough.”
On that latter development, Smith of CAAT said:
The fact that, despite Saudi opposition, the United Nations is investigating war crimes in Yemen is a sign of how serious the allegations are and how dire the situation has become for people in Yemen. The Saudi regime has tried to curb scrutiny and avoid tough questions every step of the way, so these investigations will see them confronted with the devastating outcomes of their terrible bombing.”
Last month, children’s charity War Child U.K. issued a report claiming that U.K. arms companies were “reaping double” the revenues previously estimated from arms sales to Saudi Arabia.The report estimated that the U.K. arms industry has earned revenues exceeding $7.89bn from its dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $789.24m.
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War Child U.K. claimed that the “likely tax take” from this amount would only be around £30m to the U.K. Treasury and noted that U.K. government expenditure on humanitarian relief in Yemen is significantly greater than the income generated through direct taxes. The charity’s report stated:
This tax revenue figure is pitifully small and comes at the cost of thousands of children who have been killed, injured, and starved by a conflict that this trade has helped sustain. And it is dwarfed by the £139m that the U.K. government will spend this year on humanitarian aid in response to a crisis that U.K. weapons sales have helped generate. …
Compared to tax revenues of £13m in 2016, the U.K. has pledged £139m in aid to Yemen for the current financial year 2017–18.49 If delivered in full, this would represent a 26% increase on the £110m spent during the year 2016–17, and an increase of nearly 55% on 2015–16 expenditure.”
War Child thus observed that the U.K.’s arms trade “directly counteracts” much of the benefit Yemeni civilians might expect to receive from the provision of aid, and concluded that this “undermines the Department for International Development’s policy of getting value for money” from the aid it commits.
In reply to our questions on Saudi Arabia’s blacklisting by the UN for killing children, Rob Williams, the CEO of War Child U.K., said the U.K. government “must do the right thing and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”
Anything less will do significant damage to our international reputation,” he added. “Promises of economic prosperity do not outweigh the U.K. government’s commitments to children in Yemen, who are being targeted, killed and maimed at an alarming rate.”
U.K. government offers its justification and explanation
In reply to the above criticism, the U.K. government issued a statement to MintPress News defending its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and saying that it “takes its defense export responsibilities very seriously”.
“The U.K. government already operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National arms export licensing Criteria,” a government representative said.
Pointing out that the U.K. Government is the third largest donor to Yemen, having committed over £155 million in aid this year, the representative added that ministers were playing a “leading role in diplomatic efforts” to achieve a political solution.
This includes “building support for the UN Special Envoy’s proposals for peace,” the government representative said, adding that the intervention by the Saudi Arabian led coalition came at the request of Yemen’s internationally-recognized president, who was attacked by Houthi rebels. The representative concluded:
Since then, rebels have launched missile attacks into Saudi Arabia and committed serious human rights violations. We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Yemen and will continue to work with all parties to find a political solution to the conflict.”
U.K. arms sales to the Saudis were also backed by trade organization ADS, which supports the U.K.’s defense sector. ADS said the industry works within an international framework of treaties, and that “our export control regime is one of the most robust and transparent in the world.”
ADS added that defense and security exports make an important contribution to the U.K.’s national security. “Every U.K. export license application – whether for civil or military use – is scrupulously assessed on a case-by-case basis against a set of criteria consolidated from national and European legislation,” a spokesman for ADS said.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, cholera rages
As the war continues, Yemen is also suffering a cholera epidemic. The epidemic has become the fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history, according to a report by The Guardian this month. It said that one million cases are expected by the end of this year with at least 600,000 children likely to be affected.
According to the report, the World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of the disease and 2,156 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily. Children under five years of age account for a quarter of all cases.
But after more than two years of fighting, Yemen is crippled with its public health system on the brink of collapse — and, as the U.K. continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, it’s left to charities such as Save the Children to make pleas on behalf of the war’s innocent victims.
Watch | Dominic West: Stop bombing children
Top photo | Dominic West with young Syrian refugees during a visit to Za’atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan. (Photo: Save the Children)
Billy Briggs is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist based in Scotland, United Kingdom who has reported from many places across the world including Bosnia, Gaza, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Northern Ireland. He focuses on exposing human rights abuses and his articles have been published by – among others – Sunday Mail, Scotland On Sunday, Sunday Herald, The Guardian, New Statesman, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, New Zealand Herald, British Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera.