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Murder in Yemen—Saudi coalition crimes revealed

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
A UN panel of experts has released a damning report into the Saudi-led war in Yemen, revealing widespread use of torture. Nick Clark unpacks the evidence
Issue 2620
Villagers scour rubble for belongings scattered during the bombing of Hajar Aukaish, Yemen, in April 2015
Villagers scour rubble for belongings scattered during the bombing of Hajar Aukaish, Yemen, in April 2015 (Pic: Almigdad Mojalli/VOA)

Lives destroyed and a country torn apart by bombings and starvation. Mass human rights abuses committed by a powerful military force backed by Britain.

That’s the horror of the civil war in Yemen, revealed last week in a report from a United Nations (UN) panel.

The report, released after an investigation by experts, describes the horrors committed in Yemen’s civil war.

A military coalition—led by close British ally Saudi Arabia—invaded Yemen in 2015 to restore a regime friendly to the West’s interests.

Although the report finds human rights abuses committed by both sides, the vast bulk of them are those inflicted by the Saudi coalition.

What emerges is a picture of systematic yet indiscriminate violence—and all with the tacit approval of the US and Britain.

For a start there’s the routine brutality, torture and sexual violence.

The UN found a pattern of “widespread arbitrary detention”. In prisons and detention centres controlled by coalition, people have been beaten, tortured and raped.


In March this year, in a prison run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—another Western ally—“nearly 200 detainees were stripped naked in a group while personnel of the United Arab Emirates forcibly examined their anuses.”

Detainees were raped with fingers, tools and sticks.

The same abuse took place in a migrant detention centre in the coalition capital Aden, where “survivors and witnesses described to the experts how each night guards selected women and boys for abuse.”

Then there’s the massacres.

Almost every month there’s news of a coalition airstrike on a market, wedding, funeral, hospital or school bus. Scores of civilians are killed.

As the report said, “Coalition airstrikes have been and continue to be the leading direct cause of civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure in the conflict.

“The intensity of the air campaign has been unceasing, even after its impact on the civilian population became apparent.”

It raises “serious concerns” about the targets the coalition chooses and the weapons it uses.

The coalition’s blockade on Yemeni ports is also lethal. Since March 2015 imports to Yemen have been restricted. The country imports some 90 percent of its food, fuel and medical supplies.

“As of April 2018, nearly 17.8 million people were food insecure and 8.4 million were on the brink of famine,” the report said.

“Health-care facilities were not functioning, clean water was less accessible and Yemen was still suffering from the largest outbreak of cholera in recent history.

“No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people.”

The only purpose is to punish millions of ordinary people to prop up Saudi and Western power in the Middle East.

It’s a damning shame on the coalition states that are waging the war—and the British government that backs them.

Power trumps civilian lives

Britain doesn’t just support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen—it provides the bombs that are killing civilians.

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s biggest buyer of weapons.

Bin Salmans visit drew many out onto the streets in March

Bin Salman’s visit drew many out onto the streets in March (Pic: Guy Smallman)

This strategic relationship helps to prop up US power in the Middle East.

The US and Britain ply Saudi Arabia with weapons to make sure they have a heavily-armed ally in the region.

Britain is especially keen to play the role of major arms dealer to shore up its own standing as the US’s junior partner.

Boris Johnson put it bluntly while foreign secretary. Ditching arms sales would mean “vacating a space that would rapidly be filled by other Western countries who would happily supply arms”.

Many Labour MPs are little better.

When Labour brought a motion to parliament in 2016 to call for ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, several of its own MPs spoke against it.

For most of them, the main issue was protecting Britain’s “influence” in the Middle East.

The motion fell because not enough Labour MPs turned up to support it.

Imperialism created division

Yemen is a country riven with divisions created by decades of imperialist competition and war.

At the beginning of the 20th century, north and south Yemen were two different countries.

The south was occupied by the British Empire while the north was part of the Ottoman Empire, then later was ruled by a Western-backed king.

Rebellions in both the north and south were brutally repressed. But in 1967 rebels in the south drove out the British.

The new South Yemen was backed by the Stalinist Russia against the West.

When the Soviet Union collapsed north and south Yemen became one country. But nationalist rebels in the south, and Shia rebels in the north known as Houthis have both fought for independence.

The Houthis forced the pro-West president Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi to flee to the south.

But now Yemen has become a proxy war for competing regional and global powers—with the Houthis backed by Iran, and al-Hadi and the Saudi coalition backed by the West.

Bin Salman is a warmonger

For Saudi Arabia’s ruler and defence minister Mohammed bin Salman, the more Yemenis killed the better.

According to a report on Arab news website Al-Khaleej, bin Salman has told his commanders not to worry about “international criticism”.

“We want to leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemeni generations. We want their children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.”

Healthcare is a coalition target

The coalition occupation has not just bombed civilians in Yemen. It has also targeted ordinary people’s access to healthcare.

The report says “The health-care system in Yemen has disintegrated.”

In 2016 Saudi Arabia stopped commercial flights from accessing Yemen’s airport in Sana’a.

“This has prevented thousands of Yemenites from seeking medical care abroad.

“Those who are chronically ill and need to leave the country must attempt alternative routes that require long journeys across active front lines at high risk and at high costs.”

Sham Saudi investigation

The coalition has set up its own body to investigate civilian deaths—the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAC).

Predictably, its real purpose is to cover up or to distort the many war crimes of the coalition.

The UN report found that the JIAC has justified airstrikes on civilians, and that its findings are often altered by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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