By: Patrick Wilcken
Three tragedy-filled years for the people of Yemen, who have suffered from the Saudi-led military coalition’s devastating – and often indiscriminate – bombing of their country. Fleets of fighter jets, the bulk from Saudi Arabia itself, have wreaked havoc on an impoverished country, with thousands of airstrikes on targets including hospitals, markets, homes, factories and funeral halls.
Thousands of civilians have been killed, thousands more horribly injured. Collapsed infrastructure, coupled with a partial blockade, have deprived most of the population of clean water and proper healthcare, unleashing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.
Despite all this, western countries, led by the US and the UK, have supplied the Saudi-led coalition with huge amounts of advanced military equipment, facilitating a military campaign characterised by repeated violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.
This conflict has revealed in the starkest possible terms the real cost of the lucrative global arms trade, not to mention the challenge of implementing the UN arms trade treaty. Beyond the US and the UK, many other countries – including France, Spain and Italy – profess their support for human rights and adherence to the treaty while similarly lavishing hi-tech weaponry on the Saudi coalition.
However, on this grim anniversary for Yemen there are glimmers of hope. Across the world vocal criticism from campaigners, journalists and, crucially, some politicians has begun to bear fruit. In recent months, under growing public pressure, a host of European countries have suspended arms transfers to the Saudi coalition. In other countries where arms exports have continued, they are coming under intense scrutiny, with court challenges and growing criticism from parliamentarians and the wider public.
As Yemen enters another gruelling year of hunger, disease and war, with more than 20 million of its people now in need of humanitarian aid, the moral and legal bankruptcy of western support for the Saudi-led coalition has never been clearer.
A growing number of countries have recognised the risk of ever-greater complicity in the mounting violations and likely war crimes being committed in Yemen. It’s time for the Saudi coalition’s remaining arms suppliers to follow suit and end their Faustian pact over weapons and Yemen.
• Patrick Wilcken is Amnesty International arms control and human rights researcher.