Last week I met with some members of our Yemeni community at the Al-Azhar Mosque to discuss the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. I came away from this powerful and emotive meeting with one clear message, no matter what side of the conflict people supported or identified with they were all united in wanting peace and for the fighting to stop.
The current conflict in Yemen which began in 2015 between Houthi rebels and President Hadi’s Government has been labelled the ‘forgotten war’ by Amnesty International because much of the world has ignored the conflict and little has been shared regarding its devastating consequences.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in late 2016 reported that there have been serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights committed by both sides.
The current situation is that, as fighting rages on, different parts of the country are in the control of either the Saudi Led Coalition (supported by the US and the UK), the United Arab Emirates, or the Houthis. Al Qaeda have also exploited the conflict to gain control of vast swathes of the Arabian Peninsula.
Alongside this war, for which there appears to be no end in sight, the human cost is heart-breaking. The United Nations has reported that over 7600 people, mainly civilians, have been killed. More than 3 million people have been displaced and the country is on the brink of famine. As someone said to me in last weeks’ meeting, when all military targets have been destroyed, when there is nothing left and the bombing continues the only targets remaining are civilians.
Humanitarian aid is being hampered as ports, airports and roads are in ruins. As well as a naval embargo being in place, food, medicines and vital supplies are not reaching the estimated 17 million suffering food insecurity.
Britain has sold over £3bn of of arms to Saudi Arabia since the airstrikes on Yemen began and despite strong calls from the Labour benches for a suspension of arms sales, until there is a ceasefire in Yemen and all alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law have been fully and independently investigated, our Government’s position is that it is up to a Saudi-led Joint Incident Assessment Team to assess whether or not there have been any breaches. In short, our Government is refusing to act until the Saudis have given their own verdict.
Furthermore, the UK is the ‘pen –holder’ when is comes to drafting UN resolutions on Yemen (We are the UN members whose job it is to draft and present any new proposals to resolve the conflict), so we are not powerless. Yet despite a draft resolution being produced in October last year which called for an immediate ceasefire and the prioritisation of humanitarian relief, no progress has been made in securing a ceasefire and the UK has still not presented the resolution to the UNSC (United Nations Security Council).
The continuing conflict and its consequences on the population are devastating and we, as part of the international community, have a legal and moral duty to take urgent steps to alleviate these appalling levels of human despair. It is time for our Government to step up.