Last week, MPs voted against an independent inquiry into prima facie war crimes perpetrated by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, and against suspending UK support for the Saudi Arabia coalition pending its findings.

Amnesty International, Oxfam and other leading humanitarian and human rights NGOs have called for an immediate suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Yemen is starving under the combined impact blockade and bombing. More than half the population is now dependent on food aid.  The UN World Food Program recently warned that ‘an entire generation could be crippled by hunger‘. Leading Yemen expert Martha Mundy has accused the Saudis of ‘deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society’: ‘the coalition was and is targeting internationally food production‘. Saudi Arabia has the world’s most cowardly army, second only to the IDF; it can’t fight anyone on the ground, but starving the poorest, most desperate people in the region into submission fits its modus operandi.


The UK Government has been eagerly assisting. It has licensed more than £3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the bombing campaign against Yemen began in March 2015, including fighter jets and bombs.

The motion proposing an independent inquiry and suspension of UK support for Saudi Arabia was brought by Labour, but failed because about 100 Labour MPs – the pro-famine wing of the Labour Party – abstained. Conservative journalist Peter Oborne, who has reported from Yemen, comments:

The vote is bound to be interpreted by Saudi King Salman as a vote of confidence in his deeply controversial assault on the Yemen.

It will also lift pressure on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as he resists a growing international clamour for Britain to throw its weight behind an independent UN investigation.

To sum up, on Wednesday night, the British parliament sent the green light to Saudi Arabia and its allies to carry on bombing, maiming and killing. I have reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking parliamentary events.

During the Commons debate, Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry cited Munby’s findings, and urged an independent investigation. John Woodcock MP was indignant:

The coalition is precisely focused on training Saudis to be better able to be in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Indeed, isn’t it obvious that intentionally destroying food production in the midst of a blockade-induced famine reflects lack of ‘training’?

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson rejected the call to suspend arms sales, declaring:

We take our arms export responsibilities very seriously indeed. This country operates one of the toughest control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the established criteria. The most relevant test is whether there is a clear risk of those weapons being used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. We keep this under careful and continuous review.

Amnesty International has a different take:

The refusal of Saudi Arabia’s main arms suppliers to engage in any kind of public debate about what is happening in Yemen is shameful. Blunt denials, vague platitudes, or just plain silence are becoming the standard responses to reams of credible information on how the Saudi Arabia-led coalition are using those arms to commit serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Photos of munitions of the type being sold by the UK to Saudi Arabia in the vicinity of bleeding toddlers and houses flattened into tombs are not considered important enough to prompt even a brief public statement from the UK.

ITV News reported this week on evidence that UK-made cluster bombs have been used in Yemen. Subject no doubt to ‘careful and continuous review’.

What we can do:

  • Sign CAAT’s petition to Stop Arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Write Boris Johnson, via Oxfam, to demand he suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and support an independent investigation
  • Write your MP demanding they support an independent inquiry into violations of international law in Yemen and a halt to Saudi arms sales
  • If your Labour MP abstained from this week’s vote – full list here – write or call them to ask whether this was because they support arms transfers where there is a risk those arms will be used to commit war crimes (contrary to UK law), or whether it was because their knowledge of Saudi conduct trumps the independent, unanimous findings of Amnesty International, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, and the UN?
  • Get involved in the local Labour branch to prevent this happening again.

One comment

  1. David Wearing authored a major report earlier this year on UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

    His verdict on Wednesday’s vote:

    “If there is Yemeni blood on the hands of the Saudi-led coalition, then that blood is also on the hands of the coalition’s western backers, enablers and apologists. The Saudis and their allies can only wage this war because the Anglo-American suppliers of their air forces are providing active, material support.”


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