The 2018 “Human Rights & Democracy”report from the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) includes an almost 800-word section on the humanitarian situation in Yemen – but, to a reader unfamiliar with the specifics, the document offers few clues as to who bears most responsibility for the crisis, since the British report seems to have forgotten to mention some key details.
The FCO report laments that the “human rights situation worsened in Yemen in 2018” and “the conflict in the country has had a devastating effect.” It then details the estimated numbers of lives lost and displaced citizens according to UN statistics, but doesn’t seem eager to pin blame on anyone in particular, laying responsibility at the feet of “multiple parties.”
“Multiple parties across the country committed a wide range of human rights abuses and violations.”
Yet, a UN investigative report last year found that airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition had caused “most of the documented civilian casualties” in the country – and said the indiscriminate strikes had hit “residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.”
The UN also criticized the Saudi coalition’s sea and air blockades, which, it argued, could violate international humanitarian law, and called on the “international community” to “refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict.”
But who is providing arms? The FCO report is quiet on that front, too.
It has been estimated that the UK sold more than £4.7 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since its bombing of Yemen began in 2015. British arms sales to Riyadh account for nearly half of the UK’s major weapons exports. Calls for an end to Britain’s direct complicity in the war have fallen on deaf ears.
Former UK foreign secretary –and frontrunner for the Tory leadership– Boris Johnson recommended that the UK sell British bomb parts to Riyadh, immediately after an airstrike had hit a potato factory, killing 14 people, UK media reported this week, after emails obtained by arms trade expert Dr Anna Stavrianakis, through an FOI request, revealed Johnson’s enthusiasm for the sale. In justifying the sale, the FCO’s Arms Policy Export Team argued that there was no “clear risk” that the weapons would be used to violate humanitarian law and said the UK had “confidence” in the Saudi’s “dynamic targeting processes.”
The day after Johnson recommended the sale, a village school was hit in another airstrike, killing 10 children and injuring 20. Johnson’s successor, current UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has incredibly argued that it would be “morally bankrupt” for the UK to stop arming the Saudis, because if it did, “the people of Yemen would be the biggest losers.”
Yet, the FCO report praises what it calls the UK’s“continued commitment to improving the overall human rights situation” in the country and touts its provision of “emergency cash assistance” to vulnerable displaced women and girls, as well as a UK programme aiming to “increase Yemeni women’s inclusion in the peace process.”
The one (and only) mention of Saudi Arabia came more than halfway through the section on Yemen – a tepid line on the use of secret prisons “in areas under the Saudi-led coalition’s control” – inserted without any context as to who makes up the coalition, who supports it and what it is doing.
The report then quickly switches back to self-praise mode, with the FCO promising that the UK “will continue to lead international efforts to work towards an end to the conflict.”
The section on UK ally Saudi Arabia itself begins by lauding the “positive trajectory of social reform” in the country and condemns various continued human rights violations, but makes no mention of Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen.