The Global Legal Action Network and Mwatana for Human Rights have submitted new evidence to the UK Government regarding the extent of apparently unlawful attacks carried out by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition in Yemen. Based on documentation collected in Yemen, including witness interviews and photographic evidence taken during visits to the sites of attacks, the organisations detail how the Coalition has continued to carry out apparently unlawful attacks throughout the course of the conflict, failed to credibly investigate, and whitewashed significant civilian harm.
The move comes after the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled that the government must revisit its decision to allow weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. The UK has significantly relied on the Coalition’s own examination of some of its airstrikes to justify arms sales despite consistent, credible allegations that Coalition forces have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, and have failed to take adequate steps to ensure violations stop.
The organisations provide ample detail as to why Coalition assurances - five years into the conflict - are not credible. The submission details multiple airstrikes which the Coalition denies all responsibility for - claims that are directly contradicted by witness and photographic evidence. It also provides examples of the Coalition failing to acknowledge civilian harm caused by its attacks despite readily available evidence, as well as apparently indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks on civilians and civilian objects. The evidence comes years after concerns were first raised regarding the way in which the Coalition was conducting its military campaign.
“This evidence will assist the UK government in deciding whether to grant further arms sales licenses for Saudi Arabia. They can either continue to rely on discredited Saudi/UAE-led coalition assurances, or listen to those who have painstakingly documented the constant civilian deaths caused by Coalition airstrikes. Multiple European states have already suspended arms sales and now the case for the UK doing the same could not be stronger,” said GLAN Director Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn.
“The Saudi/UAE-led coalition is decimating Yemen, with indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes destroying the country’s infrastructure without regard for civilians,” said Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. “The UK should have stopped selling weapons to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition a long time ago. We hope this evidence helps them finally make the right decision, and to start seriously pushing for peace.”
In 2014, Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces seized Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, overthrowing the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In March 2015, the Saudi/UAE-Led coalition began a military campaign, including airstrikes, at the request of President Hadi. The conflict has been marked by extensive civilian harm, and the warring parties frequently violate international law. Coalition airstrikes have killed civilians and destroyed homes, infrastructure, businesses and markets. Houthi forces have used antipersonnel landmines and indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas. Armed groups have proliferated, with civilians often bearing the brunt of fighting. Recently, clashes broke out in the southern port city of Aden, killing and wounding scores, according to the UN.
Yemen is commonly referred to as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Millions of people remain at risk of starvation due to multiple factors, including abuses by the Coalition and their allies on the ground and Houthi forces, ranging from attacks on vital infrastructure to the confiscation of life-saving supplies. The country has fought an unprecedented cholera epidemic, exacerbated by failing health, fuel and water infrastructure.
Under British law, the government must not grant an arms export license where there is a “clear risk” that the weapons might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) brought a judicial review claim against the government on the basis that that rule had been breached, and on 20 June 2019 the Court of Appeal held that the government’s decision-making process was unlawful, ordering that the decisions be re-taken.
GLAN and Mwatana have worked together to analyse the facts and the law governing the Coalition’s actions in Yemen. The organisations consider that the Coalition has committed continued, serious violations of international humanitarian law and, consequently, call on the UK government to cease all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Mwatana conducts field investigations at the sites of alleged airstrikes, interviewing witnesses and collecting photographic evidence. GLAN worked with trusted sources to add to the body of evidence held by Mwatana.
Information collected at the scenes of unlawful airstrikes directly contradicts statements made by the Coalition, which the UK takes into account when making arms licensing decisions. For example, on 3 July 2019, the Coalition’s review mechanism announced that an attack on 21 September 2016 killing 23 civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, was not carried out by the Coalition. Witnesses described an aerial attack, and photographic evidence collected at the scene of the incident depicts damage consistent with that caused by an airstrike, as well as clear remnants of an air-to-surface munition. The Coalition controls the airspace over Yemen.