The UK Government has joined international calls for a ceasefire in Yemen to allow the free flow of humanitarian aid, though campaigners have criticised the UK’s continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the country.
The conflict in Yemen has raged since 2015 when Houthi rebels backed by Iran took much of the country by force, leading to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states joining the war. Civilians have been caught up in aerial and mortar bombardments, while minefields have trapped many in place, precipitating hunger and the spread of infectious disease.
Unicef has stated that as many as 1.8 million Yemeni children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, while around 14 million people may soon be totally dependent on humanitarian aid.
The UK has thus far resisted calls to table a UN resolution on the conflict, with Saudi Arabia being a close defence partner. However, since the US called for a ceasefire or ‘cessation of hostilities’ last week, the UK appears to be moving towards action through the UN Security Council.
In a statement released yesterday (5 November), Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “For too long in the Yemen conflict both sides have believed a military solution is possible with catastrophic consequences for the people. Now for the first time there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table, stop the killing and find a political solution that is the only long term way out of disaster.
“The UK will use all its influence to push for such an approach. I met UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths on Tuesday, and there is a small but real chance that a cessation of hostilities could alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. This must be the first priority as we seek to put in place a longer term solution.”
Progress is urgent as the US’s call for a ceasefire, which set a 30-day deadline, has seen an escalation in hostilities with both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels seeking to advance and strengthen their positions.
Despite the UK’s eventual backing for firmer action in Yemen, campaigners have criticised the UK’s continuing sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Since the beginning of the bombing campaign in Yemen in 2015, the UK Government’s own statistics show that it has licensed £4.7-billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including £2.7 billion of ML10 licenses (aircraft, helicopters, drones) and £1.9 billion of ML4 licences (grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures).
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "The crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world, and it is one that UK arms have been central to creating. No matter how dire the situation has become, Government ministers have done everything they can to maintain arms sales and political ties to the Saudi dictatorship.
“The calls for a ceasefire must be welcomed, but the best thing that Jeremy Hunt and his colleagues can do for the people of Yemen is to end the arms sales and the uncritical support they have offered the Saudi regime."