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Britain's conflicting role in Yemen's war

A total of 2,355 civilians in Yemen have now been killed since March [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2015

Analysis: British aid is saving lives in Yemen, but British weapons may be contributing to the growing number of civilian deaths, a leading charity organisation has said.

British weapons may be contributing to the growing number of civilian deaths in Yemen, as evidence mounts of war crimes by all parties, including Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces, according to a report by the global charity organisation, Oxfam.

Yemen is among the world's worst humanitarian crises, with around 21 million civilians in urgent need of aid.

     The UK is funding efforts to help civilians, while the government is fuelling the conflict, causing unbearable human suffering
-Mark Goldring, Oxfam

One of its leading donors, the United Kingdom, has provided tens of millions of pounds to help Yemenis affected by the escalating conflict - but at the same time it has continued to supply Saudi Arabia with arms, as the latter conducts airstrikes in the region.

Yemen has been embroiled in open conflict since March, with fighting that pits the rebels, known as Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Saudi-backed and internationally recognised government, as well as southern separatists, local militias and Sunni extremists.

A total of 2,355 civilians have been killed and 4,862 wounded, the United Nations said earlier this week.

"Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years," the head of the International Red Cross organisation recently stated - highlighting the depth of destruction and devastation in the Arab world's poorest country.

British aid vs British weaponry

Britain has provided more than £40 million ($60m) in new aid to help Yemenis affected by the escalating conflict - including those forced to flee their homes - supplying emergency shelter, healthcare, water and food.

It has also supported the UN to coordinate other international humanitarian assistance.

Since the beginning of the year, the UK's Department for International Development humanitarian funding to Yemen has reached £55 million ($83m).

However, the UK has continued to supply Saudi Arabia with new bombs - both shortly before and during this year’s conflict, Oxfam said in its briefing British aid and British arms: a coherent approach to Yemen?

Between January and March this year, the UK approved two orders for bombs or missiles for Saudi Arabia, valued at £17 million ($26m), the group said, adding that the British government declined to give information on the amount of weaponry involved.

However, Oxfam said that, based on the cost of a previous order for Paveway IV bombs, the order may have been for approximately 680 missiles.

Since war has broken out, the Ministry of Defence has told parliament that the UK has continued to supply "precision guided weapons" to Saudi Arabia under its existing arrangements. Officials, however, declined to tell parliament how many precision-guided missiles had been exported from the UK to Saudi Arabia since the start of the recent conflict in Yemen.

     Already wracked with poverty and insecurity, Yemen has been struggling in a transition to a better future

Oxfam said the government's reluctance to disclose what arms it was sending to Saudi Arabia raises concern.

"There is a paradox at the heart of the British government’s approach to Yemen," said Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB.

"On the one hand, the Department for International Development is generously funding efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict, while on the other, the government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering," Goldring added.

Already wracked with poverty and insecurity, Yemen has been struggling in a transition to a better future.

Every week that Yemen's conflict goes on, more civilians die, and it risks becoming yet another terrible, protracted conflict - of which the Middle East already has far too many of, Oxfam said in its report.

The organisation has called for the suspension of all British arms shipments to the parties engaged in Yemen's conflict, urging the UK to use its influence to push for a ceasefire and a negotiated peace. 

"It is time the government stopped supporting this war," said Goldring, "and put its efforts into bringing an end to the carnage."

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